Almost one of the last things you think about when you are establishing a brand is the question of service marks and trademarks. That may be especially true when the brand you are establishing - consciously or not so much - is your own. That is particularly important with social media, as we learned not long ago from the Seth Godin case on Twitter. Is someone else reaping the fruits of your hard work?
You can find definitions of trademark here, here, and here. However, how did I find this information? By running a search. If someone is looking to find a resource that does "X", they will use the same scientific method. You may stand out by having a registered mark next to the name of your business.
You may also stand out more on the force of your use of a certain expression as associated with your brand. De facto burnishing that expression in the minds of your potential customers and partners as associated with you. In other words, you can choose whether to hinder your idea because of trademark issues or agree to spread it anyway. Seth riffed about it here.
There are some very good ideas in his post:
- You can trademark just about any word or phrase, but that doesn't mean it will hold up.
- One thing that has changed dramatically about trademarks is the world of domains.
- Every trademark that turns generic does so for the same reason: because it's the easiest way to describe something.
And it is flattering, too when someone else adopts your idea or a name that is very similar to yours. What do you do when you find someone who has their ID and brand name almost exactly like yours? I posed the question on LinkedIn and received some preliminary answers:
Todd Jordan said: "First off, keep an eye open to see if they are copying your content or stealing your contacts away. Second, contact them and ask if they are a fan."
Joe Raasch added: "Intent. What was the intent of the copycat? Copying is a sincere form of flattery if it is done with positive intent. If it is done with intent to steal business, contacts, or plagiarize a good name, that is wrong."
Marc Aniballi contributed: "This is unavoidable as soon as you "get big." Or at least big enough. You can only minimize the damage. Make sure your clients know that a copycat exists and not to get duped. Clearly communicate YOUR id in all places to ensure that mistakes are minimized. Otherwise, there is little you can do to stop the other person unless they start to misrepresent themselves explicitly as you. And even then, you need proof."
I know organizations are on top of trademarking laws and usage. There is legal help on hand. If you're not, I recommend you make inquiries. What about individuals? With self-publishing and social media raising so many new individual profiles, it would be worth looking into it a bit more. And don't forget to look into the meaning of the phraseology and words you are planning to use if your business is global.
What is your experience?
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