When you’re trying to get a small business off the ground, it can be easy to put off registering a trademark. After all, is there really any point to registering a trademark when your business is still tiny?
While you don’t need a registered trademark in order to run a successful business, it’s still a very good idea to register your company’s trademark as soon as possible after you start doing business, if not before. Registering your trademark can protect your brand from competitors and can be useful if you hope to grow your business beyond your local area one day. Here’s why it’s always a good idea to register your brand’s trademark.
Your Brand Will Have the Strongest Protection Available Under the Law
The primary benefit of registering a trademark is the legal protection having a trademark provides. When you register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you receive a trademark that is enforceable in every state.
Compare that to the protection you get from an unregistered trademark (or what is typically referred to as a common law trademark). You can establish an unregistered trademark through using it to do business in your area. However, you only have the trademark protection in your area. Consider the case of Burger King, a small restaurant located in Mattoon, Illinois and owned by the Hoots family. This Burger King actually predates the fast food franchise you know and possibly love. The Mattoon restaurant opened its doors in 1957, and established a common law trademark by doing business under the Burger King name.
However, when the Florida-based Burger King fast food restaurant began opening locations in Illinois, the Hoots’s common law trademark was challenged. The Hoots took the Florida Burger King to court to protect their trademark. But going to court to protect an unregistered trademark can be difficult. The Hoots won their case in the sense that the court affirmed their ownership of the Burger King trademark within their geographical area. The Hoots were allowed to keep using their trademark, but the protection they received applied only to Mattoon. The courts ruled that the big Burger King may not open any restaurants within 20 miles of the small Burger King. If the Hoots had registered their trademark with the USPTO, they could have challenged the use of the Burger King name anywhere in the country, and their ownership of it would have been affirmed by the courts.
It’s much easier to win a trademark case if you have federally registered your trademark. Your case will proceed more smoothly, as you’ll have proof of your ownership of your mark. You’ll spend less money litigating the case and may even be eligible to be awarded damages from the other party. After you’ve been using your mark for five years, it becomes incontestable, so your brand will have even stronger legal protection.
Your Company Will Be More Valuable
If you’re not yet ready to google “how to trademark a name,” consider that your company will automatically be more valuable when you register your trademark. Your brand will be stronger, and you’ll have the power to stand up to people who would try to steal the value of your brand from you by infringing against your trademark. If you want to sell your company someday, you’ll be able to fetch a higher price. And you’ll be able to keep the future open – even if you may not be planning on expanding your company now, registering your trademark will keep that possibility open for you in the future.
You Can Put Competitors on Constructive Notice That You’ve Registered Your Mark
Registering your trademark with the USPTO serves as constructive notice to competitors across the country that you own your trademark. That means that if you have to take someone to court for using your trademark or a similar trademark, you won’t have to prove that they knew you owned your trademark. The very act of registering your trademark is considered adequate to notify any of your competitors. This protection extends across the country and can keep competitors from diluting your brand or hijacking it altogether. Often, having your lawyer draft a cease and desist letter can be enough to protect your trademark from unauthorized use.
Do you really need a trademark to run a small business? Maybe not, but it can’t hurt – and it can do a lot of good. Protect your brand. Register your trademark today.