Do you have that great once-in-a-lifetime idea? Have you created a great logo or a new word to represent the brand behind your idea? If so, you may consider obtaining a trademark at your state level or at the federal level. The process is not easy and an article by freelance writer Shira Levine I saw today offers some advice:
It seems like almost anything can be trademarked these days. The name of a product, a catch phrase, and your own name, if it’s beguiling, for that matter. All is for sale and fair game for the bidding.
Businesses have been known do whatever it takes to protect their brand, including shut down another trademark that threatens to be the slightest bit akin to their own.
Historically individuals and companies fight to trademark even the silliest of names. The trademark for the almighty iPad, a name that most definitely does not conjure up images of the latest slick gadget from Apple, initially had issues with Fujitsu. Back in 2003, Fujitsu beat Steve Jobs to the iPad trademark, purchasing the name for use as a mobile phone.
This wasn’t the company’s first trademark dispute, either; the name Apple itself caused a multi-year battle with The Beatles’ record company.
Another extreme example is HBO’s Sex and the City franchise, which has had its fair share of trademark issues. In one situation, a clever New York entrepreneur tried to start a health and fitness business called “Health and the City”, but HBO told the owner to back off their trademark. “Health and the City”, however, won that war.
1. Make sure your trademark isn’t already taken. Use LegalZoom or the US Patent and Trademark Office website to verify if anyone has it.
2. Register your domain name. It’s just a few bucks and it trumps all those cybersquatters who troll the Internet registering domain names similar to popular one to see for inflated sums of money.
3. Know your rights. Congress passed and former President Bill Clinton signed the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protections Act into law in November 1999.
4. Bookmark ICANN for the “just in case” situations. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) authorizes a supervisor of domain name registrations and has an online adjudication system for settling domain name disputes if you find you need to take action.
5. You can still use a TM (trademark) or SM (service market) without registering with the USPTO. Registering the mark is what gives you protection under trademark law so that you can bring action in court if need be.
Ms. Levine’s article starts out discussing trademarks, but then shifts focus completely onto internet domains. Protecting a domain name by registering the name is not the same thing as registering a trademark. Domain names can be protected from other users by registering it through Network Solutions, godaddy, or probably a dozen other registrars. But a registered internet domain is no match for a registered trademark of the same word with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. For example, you might be able to visit godaddy and register the domain name http://www.tacoh-bell.com, but you will soon receive a letter from a very un-amused lawyer on behalf of a certain famous fast food chain demanding you cancel your new domain or the wrath of a lawsuit awaits you. This is part of the functionality of the Anti-Cybersquatting statute Ms. Levine references in her article. The law protects trademarks and other words/names that qualify for trademark protection from adverse use.
Although Ms. Levine’s Five Things are helpful, you should consult an experienced intellectual property attorney before trying to register a trademark on or your own and certainly before starting the site http://www.tacoh-bell.com.
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