A trademark isn’t just a name, symbol or logo — it’s also the way your company is identified in the marketplace. Recognizable trademarks add to a brand’s value by identifying your product or service.
Here’s how to make sure your brand is protected:
The level of protection you need depends on your company. It’s not necessary to seek global protection for a trademark that will only be used in a few key markets. You should also take into account the local laws in each jurisdiction — some will not require as much heightened protection. Also consider the cultural impact of your brand. Is your logo or name “catchy,” and more importantly, not offensive, in the language of the country you wish to expand into? Is your message clear?
Intellectual Property Laws
Many countries follow a “first to use” approach to trademark rights — the first organization to use a specific mark may maintain rights to it, even if another company filed for a trademark first. Of course, it’s always a good idea to perform a basic search before you begin using a certain logo or mark and you should file your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to obtain the highest levels of protection. Filing also serves as constructive notice to other businesses that you are using the mark.
Most countries enforce rights to a mark only if it has been filed and registered (“first to file”). Know the laws and do your research before you begin using a specific logo or mark.
A trademark search is key before entering a new market to avoid litigation, bad press and wasted efforts. Generally, mark must be substantially similar to an existing mark and used to sell similar or related goods to be considered “confusingly similar” and thus subject to legal action. The company name doesn’t need to be exactly the same to be considered similar. For example, an energy drink called “Blue Wave” might be challenged by a caffeinated drink called “Ocean Blue.” Trademarks can also be challenged across industries–for example, selling a “MicroSoft” brand DVD player.
Professional search firms can help you avoid the consequences of infringing on an existing mark. Firms offer several different “screening” services, where you can look for marks and names resembling yours across dozens of global trademark databases. A professional, full search can be conducted for any country and customized to your specific needs.
Trademark watch services monitor marks globally so you can ensure that no infringement is taking place, at a cost far less than hiring an attorney or monitoring the mark yourself. Trademarks, domain names and internet content can be monitored at both global and local levels. A trademark watch service can help you protect the equity of your brand and ensure that no confusion is created in the market by companies using similar marks.
It can be difficult to determine the scope of monitoring services needed. A good rule of thumb is to consider the value of the brand and future plans–if your brand is very valuable in terms of recognition, goodwill or research and development funding to bring a product to market, you should use the most comprehensive monitoring system possible. You should also consider future plans for expansion, concentrating on searching only in those markets where expansion is planned.
Trademark search services are a key element in planning to expand to international markets. Protect your company and your reputation by choosing a search firm that meets your needs.
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