It may not be as well known as Coca-Cola or McDonald’s, but your business’s brand name is every bit as valuable to you. However, as the Internet makes doing business more global than ever, brand names are increasingly at risk of being infringed upon or even stolen, whether purposely or inadvertently. How can you protect your brand name? Follow these steps.
- Register your domain name. Domain names are an important part of any business brand today. As soon as you come up with your business name, search for and register a domain name. Even if you’re not planning to build a website right away, it’s important to stake your claim to the domain name you want. To protect your brand, be sure to register the same domain name with alternate extensions, such as .net, .biz and .org, in addition to .com. You should also register alternative spellings — for example, stjames.com in addition to saintjames.com. Set up automatic renewal on your registration so that you don’t lose ownership of your domains.
- Trademark your business name and logo. While you’re not required to trademark your name and logo, doing so gives you added protection if someone uses a name or logo that’s the same or confusingly similar. Start by searching the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database to see if anyone has already trademarked a similar business name and/or logo. You can also apply for a trademark online. The trademark process is complex, and consulting an attorney familiar with trademark law can help avoid problems later on. Make sure to comply with all rules regarding renewing your trademark; for example, you will need to file maintenance documents between five and six years after first registering your mark, and again between nine and 10 years after registering your mark.
- Use your brand. The more you use your brand name, logo and other identifying elements, the more proof you will have that they belong to you. For example, an ecommerce business can put its logo on shipping boxes, tissue paper and packing slips. A retailer can have sales clerks wear shirts with the store’s logo on them. Use your brand on social media, too, to help establish its presence online. You can use the ™ symbol with your name and logo before you apply for a trademark; after you have officially registered your trademark, you should start using the ®.
- Monitor your brand. Set up Google alerts on your business name and use social media management tools such as SocialMention to see when your business name is mentioned. This will help alert you when someone else is using your business name, a similar name or a similar trademark illegally, so you can take action quickly. The faster you can act, the better your chances of stopping the infringement before it damages your brand.
- Deal with infringement immediately. Typically, you’ll start by sending a “cease and desist” letter to the person or company using your business name or logo. Explain your ownership of the trademark, ask them to stop using it and state that if they don’t, you’ll be forced to take legal action. You can find templates for cease and desist letters online or have your attorney create one.
Protecting your business brand takes a little bit of time, expense and effort, but it’s worthwhile to safeguard this valuable asset.
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Karen Axelton is Chief Content Officer of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her company’s blog at SmallBizDaily.com.