5 Things You Need to Know About Trademarks for Your Online Business

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Written By Brian T. Edmondson, Esq.

Hi, I'm Brian. I'm an internet entrepreneur & lawyer. I write about all things internet business & law.

Hey, it’s Brian. This article is for informational purposes and is NOT legal advice, cool? Onto the article…

As part of your online business, you’ve no doubt come up with several unique identifiers to set your venture apart from the crowd… to establish a brand that highlights and follows your values, core offering, identity, and strengths.

And whether you’re a podcaster, e-commerce entrepreneur, influencer, YouTuber, or making money online another way, you want to protect that valuable identity so that it – and your business – can flourish and grow. 

You DO NOT want to worry about copycats poaching your audience and customers… or trashing your good name – and brand – with their own inferior content or products.

At the very least, having another business out there with the same name can be downright confusing for your audience. At the very worst, someone with your name could defraud people… who think it is you!

Not good.

One of the best ways to protect your brand is with trademarks. A trademark makes you instantly recognizable to your fans, customers, and potential customers. It’s an essential part of building your brand.

Nike and its famous swoosh are famous trademarks. As are Apple and its iPhone.

What You Can Trademark

It is possible to trademark specific key elements of your business, including:

  • Logos
  • Any “branding assets” like taglines, special typography, and more
  • Company names
  • Brand names
  • Product names
  • Service names

In plain English, this means you can trademark the name of your podcast, your online course, or the slogan you use with your business, as well as the business name itself.

Protecting Your Trademark

The simple act of creating and using a name, logo, or other what are called “source identifiers” in your business gives you a trademark. Informally at least…

These are called unregistered or common-law trademarks. Just put a little TM after the name.

This practice does offer some legal protection. And this might be enough when you’re just starting out.

But soon enough – and well before your business is booming – I recommend officially registering the trademark(s) to fully protect your valuable business assets.

Unfortunately, trademark infringement is all too common in the business world as people seek to capitalize on your hard work and winning ideas.

How to Get a Trademark for Your Online Brand

1. Make sure the trademark you seek is available

You have come up with what you consider a unique name for your business or product… or is it?

Before you can register that name as a trademark, you must confirm that nobody is using that name.

First, you could try a simple Google search to see what comes up. But to really make sure, you must consult the database of trademarks maintained by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

If no results come back, that’s a good sign you might be all set to register your trademark.

(I may be biased, but I recommend you consult with an attorney to do a comprehensive search and assist you in registering your trademark.)

If something does come back, you might have to tweak or change your name. I say might because, as I’ve mentioned, trademarks must be used to stay active. 

So even if the trademark is registered but not being used, you could claim it for yourself. An attorney familiar with trademarks can help with that process.

2. Officially register your trademark

Once you’ve confirmed that your trademark(s) are available, you must apply with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

This is the only agency in the United States authorized to grant trademarks for nationwide use. 

This actually takes about a year all told – or more. And it is recommended that you hire a trademark attorney to make sure your application, which is done online, is correct from the start to avoid unnecessary delays.

Stay “active” to protect your trademark

One of the most important parts of maintaining your trademarks goes beyond simply registering it…

Trademarks are not “one and done.” You must actively use the trademark. Or, as I said before, someone could come in and register your trademark as their own – completely legally. In fact, it would then become illegal for you to use!

How do you actively use a trademark?

First off, use it in your business.

Then, you must send specific documentation on a regular basis to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prove you’re continuing to use that trademark. 

These are called registration maintenance documents, and they must submitted (although there is a six-month grace period after the deadline):

  • Between the fifth and sixth years after the trademark registration date.
  • Between the ninth and 10th years after the trademark registration date.
  • Every 10 years after that.

What to Do If Someone Violates Your Trademark

In a recent trademark infringement case, luxury apparel brand Louis Vuitton sued a South Korean fried chicken restaurant calling itself Louis Vuitton.

The restaurant changed its name… to Louis Vuitton Dak, which the courts did not feel was different enough. Especially since the restaurant was also using Louis Vuitton’s distinctive logo in its signage and packaging.

You don’t need to be a deep-pocketed corporation to challenge someone using your trademark(s). 

Your first step could be to contact the infringing party directly to ask them to stop. Have your trademark attorney draft that letter.

Sites like Amazon, Etsy, and eBay also have processes for you, as a trademark owner, to challenge others from using your trademark there. They will have to take down their listings.

But you might just skip directly to your only real way to legally enforce your trademark: filing a lawsuit. Your goal is a court order forbidding the infringer from using your trademark further… and financial damages if appropriate. 

The court could order the infringer to pay any profits they gained using your trademark, as well as your legal costs.

Of course, they would have to get rid of many products that bear your trademark.

You must show in your lawsuit that the infringement has created confusion with your customers and potential customers out there. You can also show that your brand was “diluted” by the presence of inferior products or services bearing your trademark.

Where to Go From Here

As you can see, one of the most important steps in establishing your online business and giving it a chance to grow and thrive is by trademarking its unique branding assets. 

It’s not always an easy process. But as with many things in life, it’s well worth the effort in order to save expensive headaches later… not to mention lost profits.

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