Intellectual Property & Trademark Protection:

You do have something worth protecting.
As a small business owner, you already have intellectual property.  Over the past couple of years, I have been asked to speak with local business owners about what intellectual property is, and what it might mean for them.  In this article, I provide you with some helpful tips on how to identify and characterize one of your business’ most valuable assets and then discuss the ways in which CMDG can help you figure out what to do with it.

Intellectual property is difficult to define, but today we will use the definition “a creation of the mind.”  When most of us think about intellectual property (or, “IP”) we often think of a new widget (patents) or a novel, movie or song (copyrights), but IP also includes brand names and logos (trademarks).

If you are using a mark, design or slogan in commerce that you think is unique to you, then you have a trademark.  To help identify your mark, think about those tools you use to help customers identify you as the source of the good or service.  Look for a special symbol (the Target dot), a catchy phrase (“Can you hear me now?”), or even your radio jingle (NBC chimes).  All these “marks” can be protected.

The questions are “Have you registered that mark?” and “Are you protecting it?”  Trademarks can be registered at the state and federal level.  In Washington and Idaho, trademarks are handled by the Secretary of State.  At the federal level, trademarks are handled by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (often referred to as the “USPTO”).  Federal law prohibits the use of the circle R symbol (®) unless you have a federally registered trademark.  Registering your trademark gives you another tool for stopping others from using your mark.

Why is trying to protect your mark important?  Every business owner knows the importance of the business’ reputation.  Whether it is the goods you make or the services you provide, the success of your business depends upon a reputation for excellence.  What many business owners do not realize is that a registered trademark can be a cost-effective way of protecting and expanding your reputation among existing and potential clients.

In addition to protecting and expanding your reputation, holding a trademark may create a revenue stream.  For example, USA Gymnastics is not about to miss out on the revenue stream that will flow from the five Olympians who just won gold in London:  Jordon Wieber, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, McKayla Maroney, and Gabby Douglas.  These young women captured the gold medal and became instant sensations.  At first, they were dubbed the new “Fab Five”, but a certain former University of Michigan basketball player already held the trademark to that slogan.  Then, USA Gymnastics tried to trademark the “Fierce Five”.  We’ll see how that goes.  Why would USA Gymnastics spend the resources to have that slogan trademarked?  Not because USA Gymnastics is necessarily interested in getting into the printed shirt industry, but because they may be able to stop business interests from using that slogan without paying a licensing fee first to USA Gymnastics.

The understandable reality is that IP is not the first thing on most business owner’s minds, but the likelihood is that you do have something worth protecting.  It is important that if you choose to get assistance regarding your intellectual property, you find someone who understands small businesses and how to protect those valuable assets in a cost-effective manner.  CMDG is confident that we can assist you in this regard.
–         Sam Creason

If you would like to discuss these matters with Mr. Creason or another attorney at CMDG, please contact our office to set up an appointment.

CMDG is pleased to provide articles on its website as a service to its clients and visitors.  These articles are not intended as legal advice.   Please be aware that the law differs depending on the circumstances of an individual case and changes over time.