We’ve all seen Mark Cuban and his cohorts on Shark Tank, the popular ABC TV reality show. One of the first questions investors ask is “What protected assets do you have?”
This pertains to a patent, trademark or copyright on any goods or inventions. Between these three protectable aspects, there is only one that is crucial no matter the business: the trademark.
Not all businesses require or may make use of a patent. If you sell a service, it is unlikely you would ever need or would be able to receive a patent on anything that your business does. Unless you’re inventing a manufacturing process or machine, you won’t need a patent. Copyrights are even less applicable to a business because they are generally concerned with things that have a modicum of artistic quality, such as art, music, sculptures and literature. One of the few businesses that do require copyrights are software developers and creators. Absent some of these factors, your business will not need a copyright or patent in its lifetime.
Protecting your brand is key
What your business does need, regardless of what business you’re in, is a brand. The first thing you need is a brand name. That brand name may be your company name, your product name or both. At a minimum, you will need a brand name and logo. Your brand is the main signaling device to consumers about what your company stands for, what it means to be associated with that company and how you do business. Once you’ve spent the time, energy and money to develop your brand, it doesn’t make sense to leave it unprotected.
To protect your brand, you will need a trademark. A trademark is literally that, the mark by which your product is identified in commerce. When consumers see your logo and brand name, they know this is a product created and sold by a company that is differentiated from its competitors. When they see your brand, they associate the product with the values you’ve communicated through your marketing and advertising programs. This is the power of branding. With this power comes the absolute necessity to protect your brand through registering your trade and service marks.
To protect your mark, you must register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This process requires you to have already made use of the mark in commerce or to intend to use the mark in commerce within a reasonable amount of time after filing.
There are numerous aspects of your brand that can be registered as trade or service marks, such as the shape of the container your product is in, the logo that is associated with the good or service, the words that make up the name of your company, the words that make up the name of a product line, the words and images that make up your company logo or the logo of one of your product lines. Even your slogan or company motto.
Don’t overlook your domain name
Aside from trade or service marks, another crucial aspect to protecting your brand is securing a domain name that coincides with your brand’s stated values. Often a domain name will match the product or company name, while other times it will not name the company explicitly. Without an internet presence, it is difficult for any business to make a name for itself. The internet is the new yellow pages and if you don’t come up on a google search, consumers will move on to a competitor.
Search one of the domain registration websites, such as GoDaddy or HostGator, to find and secure the domain name that fits your desired brand image.
Ultimately, the most valuable thing your business creates may be the brand you develop over time. It is imperative that you maintain the level of quality, reliability or service your consumers have come to expect. The power of branding allows you to communicate the properties of your product or service. If you do not protect your assets, you may be letting others do the communicating for you.
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