The decision to register your trademark comes down to one question: how valuable is your brand?
If you read that and think, “Meh, I could re-brand, no big deal,” then a trademark probably isn’t for you yet. If you read that and got a little pit in your stomach thinking about hiring a designer, re-doing your website and changing your name, well then friend, it’s time to talk trademarks.
A trademark is a name, word, phrase, logo, symbol or design that identifies a business or product. For example, you can’t just open a coffee shop in Texas with a green mermaid logo and call yourself Buck’s Coffee, Seattle Drip or Frappuccino’s Coffee Shop. If you did, you’d get sued by Starbucks for trademark infringement, because many customers would be confused thinking you are related to the big green coffee giant. In our small businesses, the same laws are at play– but unfortunately, many of us choose to ignore them or rationalize away our decision not to register our trademark.
Here are three great reasons you should register your trademark:
Reason #1: You can keep using your name, for good.
It’s always a variation of the same story: someone you love helped name your business, and the name means so much to you. You’ve grown a website, a brand and a social media following around it. But big, bad corporate man (or lady) has sent you a cease and desist letter that lists out all the reasons you can’t use that name anymore. And then 99% of the time, I have to be the jerk on the other end of the phone who did the trademark search to confirm that, yup, it’s true, because you didn’t register your name or do a search at the start of your business.
Don’t get burned: do a name search (or better, yet, get one professionally done by a trademark lawyer) to confirm that you can in fact use your name. And then, get it registered ASAP.
Reason #2: It doesn’t actually cost that much.
Before you punch me when I tell you how much it costs, hear me out: it’s more or less a one-time investment, and a sure-bet that you won’t be sued later for infringement. Hint: an infringement lawsuit, whether it’s just threatened (like via a cease and desist letter) or actually served (“you got served!” okay, okay, I apologize… not funny) is very, very pricey. It’s definitely not something you want coming out of the blue, and definitely not something you want coming from someone like Disney when they decide your wedding planning business’s name is the best title for their new movie.
So yes, the up-front cost of a trademark if you use a trademark attorney is around $1500-2500, depending on things like: how generic your mark is, how good your attorney is, and your likelihood of success in registering the name, logo, design or slogan. You will be tempted to use things like the big legal advertising companies, or firms that allege they can get you your trademark for way less than $1500. However, you’d be the luckiest person in the world for this to actually work out. By choosing the ‘cheaper’ route, it’s actually just shy of a guarantee that you’re going to end up paying far more than $1500. Why? Because if anything– any one little thing goes wrong– you’re going to have to get an attorney involved. And that attorney is going to have to undo the previous work of whatever inexperienced lawyer or legal assistant did (or “legal information service”), which will cost you a substantial amount of legal fees, stress and may result in an inability to get your mark registered. You’ll end up paying for the cheap option, plus the attorney you should have used from the start. Cut corners on your office furniture, not your brand.
Government maintenance fees are currently set at $400 every ten years to renew your trademark. All in all, if you have a great name or logo, you’re only looking at a cost of about $150-250 per year for the first ten years, then about $40 per year until you cease to use the mark.
Reason #3: It’s a business asset in more ways than one.
Once a trademark registration is issued, it’s automatically considered an asset of the business. Yes, that means you can license it by allowing others to use it for a fee, or assign it by selling it to someone else for a big chunk of change.
It’s also an asset if you have any interest in becoming an authority in your field, or in providing your clients with a professional experience. When you have a trademark registration, you are officially (and legally) allowed to use the ® symbol to denote that the name, logo or phrase next to the ® is a federally registered trademark. This shows your peers and clients that this isn’t just a hobby for you- it’s a business that you run and take seriously. It shows you care about the reputation of the brand and business you’re building, which implies you care about how your brand makes people feel, and that you want your clients to have a professional, inviting, excellent experience with your brand.
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