From the moment you name your business, you should be thinking about whether or not there are any businesses with the name you have selected, or even with a similar name. You don’t want to invest your hard-earned money building a brand, only to find out that you might need to change everything.
I am writing about this today as trademarking has popped up recently amongst myself, my friends, and my clients. Here are some examples: The Super Mom Entrepreneur Conference & Expo used to be the Super Mompreneur Conference & Expo. The term Mompreneur, even though widely used, is trademarked by Ellen Parlapiano and Pat Colbe of Mompreneurs Online. We made an agreement with them that allowed us to keep our social media profiles and original url, but it was after some delay that agreement was reached. I actually had done a trademark search in advance and mistakenly thought that because the trademark is on the plural “Mompreneurs” and because it did not specifically list conferences, we’d still be in the clear. We might have still had a case, because Mompreneur is so commonly used now, but it would’ve run us over $50K and years in legal struggle. Ellen ended up speaking at Super Mom, so you can see I have a way of turning lemons into lemonade. We have also run into the fact that someone bought the domain supermompreneurs.com and even copied content off our site. Because the site is owned by someone in Singapore I believe, we had no way to challenge her. She blamed the duplicate content on an intern and changed some of it, but the site still exists.
Another one of my sites, Happy and Healthy Mom.Com has a counterpart of someone who bought happyhealthymom.com and started a site using my keywords and some of my site description. Her site focuses on baby products, which is anti-what my site stands for and I am seriously afraid that people might mistake her site as something I am involved in. I also had a guestwriter turn around and start a site in Miami called Happy and Healthy Pregnancy 101.
My partner Lucinda Cross was starting a site and has been working on it for over a year, only to have someone start a site with almost the identical name as hers and launch an entire program with similar offerings. Another one of my clients was making a break with her partners, had to transfer ownership of her trademark, and needs to start a new rebranded company. One of my clients has a business in a certain name, but can’t buy the domain because a business with a similar name in another state owns it. And yet still, one of my clients is in the process of getting a trademark for a new site. As you can see, trademarking has become quite the hot topic under my biz roof.
Okay, so what does this all mean to YOU! It means that you have to be careful about your name.
- First off, you should be checking the USPTO, not just your state. You should try several variations like plural, rephrasing, synonyms, etc. to make sure that your name doesn’t even sound similar to someone else’s in your industry.
- Send yourself an e-mail with the business name. It will put a digital timestamp on it, in case you have someone trying to infringe on your trademark.
- When you get your logo done, get a custom logo rather than something others may have too!
- Buy every extension (.com, .info, .biz, .us etc.) of your domain name, and even some variations so they point to your site. You don’t want people stealing your site traffic or buying the domain to try to sell it to you at an absorbitant rate.
- Printout a business card, postcard, brochure, etc. so you can submit as collateral when you apply for your trademark.
- Add a TM to your business name on your materials. You do not have to be registered to use the TM. It serves as a notification to others in your field that you are using the mark to distinguish your business from others. The ® is for those with a federally registered trademark.
Okay, so by no means am I a lawyer or offering legal advice, and just because I have a cousin who is a patent attorney in Washington D.C., doesn’t mean I have knowledge by association. You should seriously consider at least consulting with a lawyer who can help you with your trademark needs. I know a few if you want me to hook you up.
As always, comments are appreciated. Tell me if you have had any trademarking troubles.