Protect Your Brand from Copycats

Hummingbird CreativeBranding & Creative


There are many steps to building a brand and, once you’ve finally created something that speaks to your clients and tells the world what you’re about, you want to protect your hard work. While this may mean a significant upfront cost for your business, it will protect your brand and keep your message from being diluted by competitors.  

If you’ve created a great brand identity, you might see some benefits. You’re distinguishing yourself from your competition, you’ve probably noticed increased brand awareness, you’re building loyalty and trust, and you don’t want anyone else to profit from your name or your message.

Your brand logo is a great place to start to protect your brand. Think about Nike– what comes to mind? Most likely you’re seeing their famous swoosh mark. Or Apple, their iconic minimalistic apple is instantly recognizable around the globe. If a competitor started using the Apple logo but, instead of iOS devices, they were creating Windows-based of Linux-based machines people might become confused and the influx of non-Apple products branded with the Apple logo will begin to dilute the lifestyle brand Apple has created.

To keep that from happening, Apple took steps to protect their brand and you should, too.

A trademark should be short, vigorous, incapable of being misspelled. It must mean nothing. If the name has no dictionary definition, it must be associated only with your product.George Eastman, founder of Kodak

7 Steps to Protect Your Brand Through Trademarking

1. Assess Your Logo

Is your logo unique? Evaluate which words or symbols identify your brand because anything not specifically linked to you could be rejected when applying for a trademark.

2. Trademark Search

Your trademark will most definitely be rejected if someone else trademarked it before you. You can search through the Trademark Electronic Search System and the Design Search Code Manual to vet potential conflicts.

3. Hire an Attorney

Unless you went to law school and you’re a patent attorney or have worked with intellectual portfolios your whole life, it can be difficult navigating the trademark process.

4. Complete the Application

Thanks to the Internet, you can now fill out your trademark application online but the only caveat is that it must be completed within an hour of starting. Only one mark is allowed per application and a crisp, clean scan is required. You must pay the filing fee upfront and it’s nonrefundable; meaning, even if your trademark is rejected, you do not get that money back. This is where having an attorney might be helpful, they can make sure your application looks good and is completely filled out. Don’t get rejected due to a technicality!

5. Monitor Your Status

The USPTO needs to review your application and this process can take anywhere from three to six months so have patience. An attorney will review your application, further research into whether or not it complies with all applicable rules and doesn’t conflict with existing trademarks. Make sure you periodically check up on the status of your trademark so you don’t miss any important notifications from the patent office that require a response.

6. Final Response

Eventually, you’ll receive the results of your application. If you’ve been accepted, congratulations, you’ve made the right step to protect your brand! After your approval, your trademark will be in the weekly USPTO newsletter and the public has 30 days to object to your trademark. If you’ve been rejected, the USPTO will include a detailed letter of why you were rejected and point to aspects your need to change before you will be accepted. This can very beneficial– you don’t want to dilute your brand or cause confusion for your customers.

7. Continue to Protect Your Brand

After five to six years, you will need to file for a renewal trademark; there are fees associated with this process but the brand equity you build when you protect your brand more than makes up for it. After the first renewal, your time is extended to ten years before the next.

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Other Ways to Protect Your Brand

1. Don’t Keep Your Web Content Open for Theft

Web content is an often-overlooked part of your message when companies begin the trademarking process. An easy way to deter content thieves while having a heavy-weight champion of copyright infringement takedowns on your side is to create an account with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This US copyright law was implemented with two treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2006 and has been protecting web content, from words to images, ever since. The DMCA gives you the power to take down stolen content– it’s as simple as creating an account and displaying the badge on your site.

2. Protect Your Intellectual Portfolio (IP)

There is no possible way to go overboard with copyrighting and trademarking your brand (unless you’re stealing from another brand) as long as the process makes sense. You need to decide what’s relevant to your business and brand. The best way to decide what’s best for you and your brand is to consult a lawyer who specializes in protecting the IP.

3. Be Distinctive

There are five levels on the spectrum of distinctiveness when trying to trademark and each level has its own layers of legally enforceable protection: fanciful marks, arbitrary marks, suggestive marks, descriptive marks and generic terms. While fanciful arbitrary, suggestive and descriptive marks can all be trademarked, generic terms cannot. A generic terms is not capable of functioning like a trademark by distinguishing the product or service from others, so it can’t be trademarked. This is often because the generic term is necessary for other businesses to use when describing the function of their product or service

4. Monitor Your Brand versus Your Competitors

A great way to monitor your brand and how your trademarks are being used is to set up Google alerts. Google will deliver results to your email inbox whenever certain phrases or words are used so you can passively monitor where your brand goes on the Internet. There’s also analytical software available that will monitor your competitors. It’s very important to protect your brand to the best of your ability. Creating a strong brand in the eyes of your customers can be the difference between building your business bigger than you ever could have dreamed or sinking before you even set sail. Get serious, protect your brand and don’t let anyone else profit off your hard work.

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At Hummingbird Creative Group, we build business value through better branding. Contact us to find out how we can build your business’s value:
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