As a small business owner, one of your greatest assets is your brand – and one of your greatest enemies is brand bullies. Just as bullying in schools is a serious issue, so too is it in the business world.
Never heard of brand bullies? Here are a few examples of how truly ridiculous their behavior can be:
- TeleTracking Technologies will bully you into submission if you try to use the common word “track” in your business name.
- Blue Cross Blue Shield doesn’t want you to use “blue” in the name of your healthcare-related company.
- Attempt to use “i” or “pod” or “apple” in your company name – or a logo featuring an apple – and you’ll hear from (you guessed it) Apple.
- The Lance Armstrong Foundation’s lawyers will descend on you if you use “strong” in your company name, as it’s apparently too similar to their LiveStrong brand.
Like I said, ridiculous. I mean, some of the above examples are pretty commonly used words – heck, they are in the dictionary! (For more eye-popping stories, you can read about the biggest brand bullies here.)
Unfortunately, a lot of brand bullies have deep pockets and a tenacious legal team that will do anything to protect their trademarks and brand.
Of course, our natural inclination is to take on the brand bullies – they can’t win! It’s not right! One such person was Scott Smith, whose public relations firm was called Entrepreneur PR. Entrepreneur Media Inc. (EMI), publishers of Entrepreneur Magazine, filed suit for trademark infringement over his use of the name “entrepreneur.”
Smith decided to fight back – and it cost him dearly. Once one of the 10 fastest growing PR firms in the country, his legal battle against EMI forced him to lay off all of his employees and move his business into his basement. To make matters worse, a federal judge ruled that Smith had to pay EMI $1.4 million, including attorney’s fees and damages.
OMG is right.
So, what is a small business to do?
Research trademarked names FIRST
Trademarkia is the largest visual search engine for more than 6 million trademarked logos, names, and slogans on the Internet. Before you settle on a company or product name, look up trademarked names and their restrictions.
If you’re in the clear, register your trademark
Register your trademark at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, so you’ll receive mark rights and legal protections should you need to enforce your rights. (You’ll also need to periodically check in and show that you’re still using the mark, so don’t forget to do so!)
If you’re not in the clear, go back to the drawing board
Do you really want to go the way of Scott Smith? Of course not. When you’re dealing with a brand bully, take the easy route. Back away – and make a beeline to the (name) drawing board.
Don’t ignore cease-and-desist letters
If you get a cease-and-desist letter from a brand bully, take it to heart. You might even run alternatives by the brand bully to ensure it’s kosher. (You can also write a funny response while possibly drunk – it’ll probably go viral and boost your brand.)
Have you ever come face-to-face with a brand bully? How did you respond? What is your brand’s new name?
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