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How (and why) you need to protect your trademark

Your business and your trademark are all tied closely together -- especially if you're a small business concentrating on just a few (or even only one) product that you want to bring to the world.

However, if you don't protect that trademark, you can lose it.

Trademark Genericization

When a trademark becomes so widely accepted as the example of a specific type of product that people use the trademark as the actual name of the item, the trademark can be the victim of "genericization."

It sometimes takes some aggressive campaigning to keep the trademark from being lost -- legally -- once that happens. Xerox, for example, once became verbal shorthand for "photocopy" and was rapidly becoming part of the English language as both a noun and verb. It was only through aggressive marketing that Xerox retained its trademark -- and keeps its standing as the pinnacle of the market for photocopiers and related products.

Other companies haven't fared so well. For example: Aspirin, cellophane, escalator, trampoline, dry ice, linoleum and "app store" were once all trademarked brand names. Now, it's probably been a very long time since people thought of "dry ice" as "solid carbon dioxide," which is the actual product. Anyone can sell dry ice under their own brand -- which left the company that brought it to market in the first place pretty much out in the legal cold.

Trademark Defense

In business law, the best defense is a good offense. Experts recommend that new companies keep the following in mind when aiming for a trademark:

  • Be original -- the more offbeat the name, the less likely you'll run into problems and the easier it will be to defend.
  • Get your application together -- while it's technically your intellectual property from the moment you think of it, applying to register your trademark gives it legal standing.
  • Respect your own work -- visibly indicate on all your company's materials that the name is a legal trademark. Never use your trademark generically in your own marketing materials. For example, Google expressly forbids employees from using the trademark as a verb.

You also have to watch how others use your trademark. If someone begins using your trademark in a generic way or using something similar to your trademark, take legal action. Start with a cease and desist letter, but be prepared to go further if necessary.

Source: Inc., "4 Trademark Tips to Protect and Build Your Small Business," Melissa Thompson, Dec. 13, 2017

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