Trademark Your Name
Image by t-dawg via Flickr
Before It Is Too Late
Register your trademark. This is the best advice I wish I could retroactively give most businesses. By the time they come to see me, there is a problem, one which is often too late to fix. Protecting the name of your company with a federal registration offers major advantages. One big advantage is reducing the likelihood you will get sued by a company that did register its trademark. Another big advantage is preventing competitors from using your trademark to steal your customers.
The federal trademark registration process is relatively painless. Costs range from $800 to $2,000 or more, depending upon how unique your trademark is. The process takes between six and 18 months or more. If you are considering investing a large amount of money in your new trademark, it may be worthwhile to invest in a trademark search. Though the search will let you know of potential threats, in my experience, the trademark owners with the best claim of infringement are not always the ones who sue you. Until they come up with a who is the most litigious search, a standard trademark search is still your best bet.
Sooner, Rather Than Later
The federal trademark registration process has been known to put you in the cross-hairs of a previous trademark registrant. If your trademark is too close to another trademark,and you are going to have to change trademarks, it is much easier to change one that you have been using for six months than one you have been using for six years. In addition, paying six months of damages for your infringement is much less painful than paying for six years. If you get caught soon enough, trademark owners often decide the damages are too small to pursue and settle for you just picking a new trademark. Registering your trademark early also allows your mark to become "incontestable" sooner. This means that even if it turns out someone was using your trademark first, once your trademark has been registered for five years, your registration is immune to attacks based upon prior use.
It is true there are trademark owners out there who have gone years without registering their trademarks. It is also true that there are thousands of businesses who don't realize their folly until they find themselves on the wrong end of a cease and desist letter. Surrendering the name your company spent years building into an institution would be devastating. Watching your company to go under would be even worse, especially now that you know how easily it would have been to prevent.