When choosing a brand name for a new business venture or for a new product or service line, there are several important issues that need to be considered. You may “create” the best brand identity of all time, but if someone else already beat you to the punch, it’s not going to do you any good. This article outlines five important tips for adopting a new brand name for your small business.
1. Make Sure It’s Something You Can Protect
The primary reason for putting money and effort into developing a trademark is to end up with something protectable that will differentiate you from your competitors. As a result, it is important to develop a trademark that is actually capable of being protected. For new ventures and most small businesses, trademark law does not protect “brands” that either (i) are generic terms, or (ii) are merely descriptive of the products or services the business provides. The strongest trademarks are “fanciful” (made-up words (think Snickers®, Exxon®)), followed by “arbitrary” (think Apple® for computers) and “suggestive” trademarks.
2. Make Sure No One Else is Using It
Once you come up with a protectable trademark, the next step is to make sure no one else is using it on competing or related goods or services. If you choose a trademark that is too similar to someone else’s already on the market, not only will it fail to differentiate your products or services, but you will be staring down the barrel of a trademark infringement claim that will require changing your trademark, expensive litigation, or both. Trademark clearance research can (and should) be used very early on to analyze the availability of proposed trademarks, and is a critical component of the brand development process.
3. Protect It Early in the Process
Once you decide on a trademark and determine no one else is using it for competing or related goods or services, the next step is to register it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Registration provides national exclusive rights to use the mark, subject only to the pre-existing rights of any operators who have not applied for registration (who you should have identified and made an informed decision regarding during the trademark clearance process).
4. Be Consistent
Once you decide on, clear and apply to register your new trademark, it is important to be consistent in your use of the trademark online and in promotional materials. If the trademark starts with “The”, be sure to use “The” every time you type out the mark. If you used caps or no caps, spaces or no spaces, be careful to ensure that you represent the mark consistently on an ongoing basis. Not only will this strengthen the brand, but it will also help maintain the enforceability of your trademark rights. While clearance and monitoring research should cover these types of alternatives, these tasks serve a different important purpose from actually making use of the mark yourself.
5. Make Sure No One Else is Using It
No, this isn’t a repeat of number 2. Once you begin using the trademark, other people will take notice, and inevitably someone—whether it be a competitor, consumer, or run-of-the-mill infringer – will do something to harm the goodwill of your new brand. As a result, trademark owners need to engage an active trademark monitoring strategy to protect the rights they worked so hard to develop. Proactive monitoring allows the business to spot issues early on, before they get out of control.
Jeff Fabian helps business owners protect their brands so that they can stay focused on running their businesses. Jeff is also a co-founder of TrademarkIntel, LLC, developer of an innovative software application for conducting instant, cost-effective trademark clearance and monitoring research.