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Brand Building with Trademarks

Great companies have great names. Besides a nice sound or attractive appearance, product names instantly tell a potential customer about their quality. Think Coke, Nike, Microsoft.  All of those names imply a product quality the company has earned over many years of providing popular products.  You might not think about a trademark as a brand name but a trademark tells buyers who’s the source of the product or service is. This lets them judge the quality by the brand name.

The government has an interest in protecting brand reputations that dates all the way back in the history of English common law. They realized counterfeiting hurts the overall economy and shabby products may harm people. Since then all states and the US government provide a means to protect brand names using registered trademarks.

Consider that one of the most popular and widely respected brands out there is Nike, the makers of the tennis shoes and all that sporting equipment.  Some time ago Nike ran an interesting ad campaign that was only a billboard with their swoosh logo.  Of course, everyone recognized it using only its swoosh logo.  People would recognize the logo and of course that logo has a lot of prestige.  Let’s say you’re making basketball or tennis shoes and you put the Nike swoosh on it. People will recognize it (a) for its quality and (b) for the cool, hip association that comes with the Nike swoosh. This is the power of branding – it conveys the reputation of your business to the world. At the end of the day your trademark might be your most valuable piece of intellectual property, so trademarking should not be taken lightly.

A trademark is used to indicate the source of a product. When you deal with the Trademark office, that’s the test they’re going to use in evaluating your trademark.  The question the Trademark Office asks is, does the public associate this trademark with your company?

Trademarks can not only be the names of companies but they can be logos or slogans (Just do it!). This means that having multiple trademarks might make a lot of sense. This allows a business to target different trademarks towards different customers.

When you’re starting a business, or running a small business, your brand and your logo, (your trademarks), are really where you’re putting all your effort into because the products you make today probably won’t be the same products you’re making in 5 years from now. You may make a variant of it, but if your company is successful, your products are going to have a lifetime and when that lifetime ends you’re going to move on to other products and you are going to move on to other services. And if you have built a good brand name you can take the goodwill from that first product and apply it to your new products. And a trademark is the best way to do that.

A business can apply for their trademark even before your company has released a product and even before you’ve started using the trademark. You can file what’s called an “intent-to-use” application while you are developing your product. So, as you’re building your company, spend the time to develop a good trademark, a good company name or a catchy logo and start the registration process.

Remember too that we live in the internet age. If you have a good idea for a company name or trademark, get the domain for it right away.  Because as soon as you search for that domain, somebody else will see it and capture the name before you.  When you go back later to try to buy it, that someone will be trying to sell you back your clever name. If the domain is available when you look, buy it then.

Author: Pete Tormey