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Protecting Your Business with Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents

July 14th 2022

What steps can you take to protect the brand name you’ve come up with for your business or product? Can you prevent others from copying the sales page you’ve crafted or the course you just rolled out? How about a product you invented or an app you developed?

The short answer is… yes. The U.S. government provides protections to creators of brands, intellectual property and inventions that can prohibit others from using unique words or phrases you’ve claimed as your own. 

Trademark attorney Nicole Swartz of Sprout Law provided an overview of the basics of protecting your brand and intellectual property in a video in the WomensNet Resource Center.

How to Protect Your Business

Swartz explains that “you can’t just pick any word or name you want” and start using it  in conjunction with your business without first checking that no one else has claimed it. For example, you may think attaching a well-known brand to your business would be a good idea, for popularity or credibility. And you would be wrong.

For example, if your name is Catherine Vansandt Smith and you decide you want to use your initials, CVS, on your new management consulting firm, a certain pharmacy would probably send you a cease-and-desist notice to stop you. Or if you’ve started a new landscaping firm and you want to call it Weed Eater, the manufacturer of an established line of weed trimmers might not appreciate that, because it could confuse their clients. Expect to hear from them as well.

  1. So, before you start using that clever name or phrase as your company name, conduct a trademark search.

There are more than 3 million trademark registrations filed in the U.S., Swartz, says, which makes it possible someone else had the same idea as you and has already laid claim to your new name. If you start using a word that someone else has trademarked, you can be sued, which can get expensive very quickly.

In addition to conducting a trademark search at the US Patent and Trademark Office, or hiring an attorney to conduct one for you, it is also a good idea to do some social media sleuthing. Even if a trademark hasn’t been officially filed, if someone else is already using a specific word or phrase, their trademark may be in-the-works. And you will be more likely to have your request for trademark protection rejected because you’re not the first to use it.

  1. If your search confirms that no one else in your state or country is using the same name, you can take the next step of filing an application for a trademark.

Because it costs money, don’t start your trademark application until you’ve completed a search that came up with no competing uses.

Swartz warns that it can take six months or more for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to review your application and 84% of the time, you will receive follow-up questions about your filing.

When you receive questions, you’ll want to make your best legal argument as to why you should be granted the trademark, Swartz says. Many questions have to do with clarifying how you intend to use it, such as on what types of products and services, so be clear about potential future uses, so as not to fence yourself in or limit future applications of your name.

  1. As the application process is nearly done, the USPTO will announce its intent to grant your trademark request in various publications and on websites and will ask for any objections, much like at a wedding (“speak now or forever hold your peace”). 

This is when you may discover other companies have product lines or similar enough names that they would not want you to receive approval. They can speak up and may potentially derail your application.

  1. If there are no objections or the objections can be resolved or dismissed, you will receive final trademark approval. You will need to demonstrate that you are using and intend to continue to use your new trademark, however.

The biggest advantage of a trademark is that you can stop copycats from stealing your name, to protect your brand, Swartz says.

Other Forms of Protection

Where a trademark is used to protect your brand and related elements, such as your logo, your tagline, slogan, or business name, a copyright and patent protect other intellectual property.

A copyright should be applied for if you are asserting ownership of written materials, such as blog posts, articles, books, music, and screenplays, among other types of documents. The purpose of a copyright is to prevent others from claiming your words as their own and using them for their benefit.

And a patent is a similar type of protection afforded inventions, processes, and formulas. Apply for patent protection if you’ve just created a new product or system.

Although filing for these types of protections costs money, you then earn the right to prevent other companies from commandeering your name without compensation, or to prohibit them from its use altogether. Trademark, copyright, and patent protection give you the right to stop others from stealing your intellectual property.

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