You build your business from scratch, you give it a name, and soon it grows into a brand, amassing a large number of loyal customers. Then one day, you discover that there is another company out there that is using your business’s name. Or worse, you get a letter from them saying you are infringing on their trademark! What do you do when such a situation arises? How do you ensure that your business is thoroughly protected? Trademarking your business name is the first step in that process. Let’s familiarize you with trademarks and how they work.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is an identifiable symbol, word or group of words that have been legally registered as representing a company, a product or a service. As a business, it is possible for you to trademark your business’s name, your logo, and unique names of your products or services.
Some everyday words are, in fact, trademarked brand names or product names themselves. For example, Band-Aid is the trademarked name of the adhesive bandage manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. Bubble Wrap is the name of Sealed Air Corporation’s inflated cushioning, Frisbee is the name of the flying disc from Wham-O, Jacuzzi is the brand name of the company that makes whirlpool baths! Trademarking these product names have helped these companies protect themselves from those who could try to take advantage of their success by duplicating their names and products.
What are international trademarks?
If you were running a business that has branches all over the world, would you have to go to each country and file trademarks there? The answer is no. That’s where international trademarks come in. The International Trademark Registration System, also known as the Madrid System, allows you to have your trademark protected in up to 120 countries! The downside is how pricey it is. The total fees to register an international trademark includes a basic fee (between 653 – 903 Swiss francs), plus additional charges based on the number of countries and the number of classes of goods and services that you want your registration to cover.
How long does trademark protection last?
Every trademark is registered for a fixed number of years. Usually, it is for a period of 10 years. But it could also vary from region to region. You can renew it indefinitely as and when it expires by paying additional fees each time.
Should you register a trademark?
In India, you don’t have to trademark your business name if you are a really small business with only one branch or outlet. It doesn’t make sense for you to spend so much money (the process of formally registering a trademark is expensive!) unless your business picks up or you have plans to expand your business further by venturing into the global market.
There also exists something known as common law trademark or unregistered trademark. According to the Indian Trade Marks Act of 1999, ownership of a trademark in India is determined on a first-to-use basis and not on a first-to-file basis, unlike the patent law. So, it would be wise to check if your company name has already been taken before you start building your business. If it hasn’t been taken and if there are no other competitors using the name you have chosen, you can continue using it for your business without registering it as you would be considered the first to use it.
Should you hire a lawyer?
If you have plans to register a trademark, it is recommended that you get the help of a trademark lawyer since you are treading in unfamiliar territories. Trademark laws vary from country to country, and there are rules even in the Indian jurisdiction, or wherever your business is based out of, regarding foreign trademark registrations as well. Trademark lawyers are well-versed in these topics and you as an entrepreneur needn’t know all the intricacies of trademark laws when you can get the help of someone who already knows it!
There are so many horror stories of businesses failing to register trademarks and subsequently ending up in sticky legal situations. So, do consult with experts or other entrepreneurs and take informed decisions so that your business is always protected.