A trademark is a valuable tool in any business model. It is the device that identifies who you are; it tells the consumer who is making and selling a particular product or service. It conveys the emotional associations or brand attributes you wish to convey to your customer. Whether you intend to have a niche product, sell business-to-business, or be the next hot consumer product, you will want a trademark.
A trademark can be anything – a word, a symbol, a sound, a smell, a color, trade dress, the packaging of a product, the look and feel of a restaurant or a golf course, or a distinctive graphical user interface. Once you make it yours, it will belong to you forever as long as you keep using it. Charles Lewis Tiffany chose the blue that has become the Tiffany Blue for the cover of Tiffany’s “blue book,” the annual collection of handcrafted jewels first published in 1845. Levi Strauss started using the Arcuate stitching design on the back of his newly designed pants in 1873. The Coca-Cola bottle, an icon today, was introduced in 1916. Nike introduced its Swoosh trademark in 1972; Intel launched its INTEL INSIDE program in 1991. Along with all of these famous brands, you can find Apple and Google as the top two valued brands in the 2015 Interbrand Brand Survey. Brand association is commercially imperative and trademarks are the intellectual property – the thing you can own – to convey that brand association.
As you adopt your trademark, consider what you would like your consumers to think when they see your name or trademark or logo. From there, you will have to create your trademark or logo. As you create your trademark, for example, consider whether you want something coined or fanciful (think Kodak, Apple or Google) or would you prefer something suggestive (such as Travelocity, NETFLIX or Greyhound) or even descriptive (such as All Bran cereal or United Airlines). Any of these can be trademarks. The distinctive, fanciful, or suggestive names can be trademarked right away; the descriptive name will take some time until you have promoted your name enough that consumers associate it with you.
Coined, fanciful and suggestive trademarks may garner more trademark protection than descriptive terms. After all, if you choose something descriptive, your competitors will want –and need – to be able to describe their product or service too. But descriptive terms can be nice because they tell the consumer right away something about what you do or what your product does.
Don’t become wedded to your new trademark until you find out whether you can use it. Unlike naming a child or your favorite pet, you cannot use the same trademark as someone else, at least for the same or similar goods or services. You will need to look on-line and check the Federal Trademark Register (www.uspto.gov) to see if the name is available. You may also need to do a more thorough search through specialized databases. You may need a lawyer to help you with this analysis. If your proposed trademark is available in the United States, you will need to consider whether you will want to use the trademark outside of the United States. Each country has its own trademark laws, so you need to find out if the trademark is available in each country where you wish to use it.
Once you settle on a trademark, you should obtain trademark protection for it. If your business will be truly local, a state trademark registration may be appropriate. If your business is more than local, then you may want to apply for a federal trademark registration from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If you believe you will do business outside the United States, then you will want to consider trademark registration in other countries. In many countries, you must have a trademark registration in order to be able to use and protect your trademark.
You also will want to be sure to use your trademark properly. Remember when “Rollerblades” first came out? No one knew what to call them so we all called them “Rollerblades” until the company introduced us to “in-line skates.” You should have a noun to go with your trademark so that your trademark does not become the word for your product or service. “Escalator” and “Zipper” started out as trademarks that become synonymous with the product and lost their protected status. You will want to make sure that you and your employees refer to your trademark in ways that make it clear that the trademark is special and not just any other word.
A trademark is wonderful thing. It conveys so many things in a single symbol. Everyone is accustomed to trademarks, so it will be natural for your customer – whoever that customer is – to recognize your company and what you are selling when she sees your trademark.