Trademark Fundamentals for the Entrepreneur

In today’s digital world, your company’s image is increasingly important. Entrepreneurs spend significant time and resources developing their names and brand—and rightfully so. A strong brand allows you to connect with the target audience for your products and services and create loyal, repeat customers who identify with your vision. But with new competitors entering the market daily, it is more and more challenging to stand out and show the world what makes you unique.

At the same time, it is easier and easier to access and steal others’ ideas. Trademarks can help you distinguish yourself and protect the name and image you worked hard to develop. Even if you’re still in the brainstorming phase, it is never too early to consider legal protection for your new business. The bottom line is protecting your ideas before the word is out is much easier. 

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a type of intellectual property consisting of a word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services and distinguishes them from others. Trademarks provide legal protection for your brand and help you guard against counterfeiting and fraud. 

Contrary to popular belief, having a trademark does not mean owning a particular word or phrase legally. You cannot prevent others from using trademarked words or phrases in general, but you can protect against others using trademarked words or phrases regarding specific goods or services. For example, a registered trademark for the name Live Laugh Law for a law firm would prevent another company from registering the name Live Laugh Law for another law firm. It would not prevent the general use of the phrase across other sectors.

What can be Trademarked?

You can trademark almost anything if it indicates the source of your goods and services. You can seek trademark protection for slogans, fictional characters, sounds, colors, and smells. For example, Tiffany’s “Tiffany Blue” boxes are an example of color serving as a trademark. Or Play-Doh for scent. You can apply to register your trademark in standard character format or special form format. The format you choose affects the scope of protection for your trademark registration. 

Most registered trademarks are in standard character format, which protects words, letters, numbers, or a combination of those without any limitation to a specific font style, size, color, or design. You apply to register in standard character format if you want to protect the words themselves, regardless of how they’re displayed.

Special format, on the other hand, covers stylized trademarks, where color and design matter to the owner. You apply to register in special form if you want to protect the stylization and design as an essential part of the trademark. With this format, you get protection for the trademark’s appearance.

To illustrate, the Coca-Cola Company has registered Coca-Cola in both standard character format and various special form formats. Coca-Cola is registered in standard character format, providing the broadest protection because it protects the words and is not limited to a particular font style, size, or color. In addition, the Coca-Cola logo script is in special form, where the stylized lettering is a significant part of what’s protected. 

The above examples show how trademarks distinguish your business from competitors. While these examples showcase large and successful companies, remember all these businesses started as ideas.

Griffith Barbee is here to help you register your trademarks and protect your growing business. Contact us to learn more.

Griffith Barbee PLLC

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