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The SuccessLab Podcast: Where Entrepreneurs Collaborate for Success

May 31, 2015

When it comes to launching a business, product or idea there's a lot to think about even just in the naming of it. What will capture your brand? Is the URL available? Are the social handles available? But one thing that is often overlooked or even avoided out of sheer confusion is trademarking.

It can be an involved, expensive, and lengthy process. Adding to the complexity, beyond trademarks, there are also service marks, certification marks, trade dress, and collective marks. Which one do you need? Do you even need one? And if so, when should you be thinking about trademarking your brand?

Rachel Rodgers, founder of Rachel Rodgers Law said business owners need to be thinking about trademarking from day one, unless it’s a concept or idea that’s still in development. But once you’ve got a name, tagline, product, packaging, or logo then it’s time to think about trademarking.

“At that stage you need to start thinking about trademarking,” she said. “Even if you’re not ready to register your trademark, at that point you should absolutely start doing a trademark search to make sure the name you want to go with isn’t infringing on someone else’s business.”

This involves an in depth search to see if any competitors in your industry are currently using that name. One place to start is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s electronic search (TESS). Rachel also suggests other online searches using various search engines…not just Google (yes, others exist).

“Don’t just search Google or just the first page,” she said. “You have to go beyond the first page! Just as an added search, I also check Amazon.”

Of course attorneys can do all of this for you, just expect to pay around $500 for a comprehensive search. Rachel did have a note of caution about some of the low-cost online services…sometimes you get what you pay for. Similarly, when business owners have opted to file their own, she has seen far too many of them end up with not as much brand protection as they initially thought simply because the way the application was drafted.

And if you do hire someone to complete the entire process, you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $2500 to conduct the search and file the trademark. But do your due diligence. Some online services will only file the initial application, and according to Rachel, 80 percent of trademark applications will get hit with an office action.

Trademark vs. Service Mark

Now back to all those types of do you know which is right for your business?

“Trademarks and service marks are pretty much the same thing,” said Rachel. “A trademark is supposed to be attached to goods, whether that’s a physical product or a digital product. And service marks are attached to services. So if you only sell services, the USPTO will issue a service mark. If you sell services and products, they will issue a trademark.”

And if you do sell multiple digital products, all with different names, you will want to trademark each one of those names. If they’re under one theme, like “Podcasting for Dummies,” “Quickbooks for Dummies,” etc. you may be able to just trademark the main root phrase “For Dummies.”

As for those others mentioned, it’s likely you won’t need to worry about those. Trademarks and service marks are the most common. One other misconception to steer clear of…Rachel said a lot of business owner think a DBA will suffice in place of a trademark, but this offers zero protection to the brand.

Getting Protected the Right Way

There are a few other key things Rachel said business owners should do to protect themselves when starting out to limit their liability. She calls dubs it the four layers of liability protection:

  1. Create a business entity, like an LLC, to separate your personal assets from your business assets.
  2. Insurance up! There is professional liability insurance, product liability insurance, a business owner’s policy (also known as a BOP) that is like a protective umbrella over the business.
  3. Have contracts in place for clients, customers, contractors, etc.
  4. Provide good customer service. This will go a long way in preventing being sued. Not to mention it’s all around good business practice.

For us entrepreneurs, our businesses are our livelihoods - something that not only allows us to keep food on the table and pay bills, but also give us a reason to wake up and stay motivated. So be sure you’re protecting it!

This week’s Biz Hack:

Slack, an online platform for team communication. I’ve been using it more frequently o communicate with my team since we work remotely. It’s also been all the rage at the co-working space I work from. You can use it in place of email, Google chat, text, Skype messaging, etc., to send messages and share files…or just send funny pictures or gifs.

You can also create channels to organize specific teams around specific projects. It also integrates with nearly every other platform imaginable…Asana, Dropbox, Mailchimp, Google Drive, IFTTT, GitHub, Stripe, and the list goes on. Hash tagging conversations allows you to go back and search those specific conversations. And…it’s free! An all around great tool for streamlining communications between groups.

Quote of the Week:

Finally, this quote by John Beecher: “Strength is a matter of the made-up mind.” So very true. Think about how powerful you are once you’ve made up your mind about something. It’s almost as though you can’t see any other option. Of course this can work against you in certain situations, but in terms of determination and achieving goals, a made-up mind is a powerful thing.