Trademarks: Selecting the Right Name
One legal topic we at Epiphany Law often advise businesses on – whether a New London startup, or a Neenah multi-national company – is trademark protection. Trademarks are one of the “big three”( intellectual property rights, along with copyrights and patents.) A trademark is a brand name. Trademarks include any word, name, symbol or device used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one business from those of another. In other words, a trademark indicates the source of goods/services (such as your Appleton, Wisconsin headquarters!). Many businesses rely heavily on their brand name, because it signifies the quality, reputation, or other characteristics of the business and its products or services. It is important for these businesses to ensure their trademarks are on solid legal ground.
The best time for a business to seek legal advice regarding the strength of a potential trademark is before the trademark is used. The relatively small upfront investment in researching a trademark is worth the peace of mind in knowing that your trademark is protectable and not already being used by someone else. Litigation and disputes about trademarks once already used in commerce can be a very expensive distraction.
Although there are many nuances involved in analyzing a trademark, the two most crucial factors are (1) likelihood of confusion and (2) distinctiveness. The likelihood of confusion essentially means that a trademark cannot be too similar to an existing trademark that is in use by another company for a similar set of goods and services. Distinctiveness means that a trademark cannot be too generic. For example, a Kaukauna bakery named “The Good Bakery” would not receive much, if any, trademark protection.
Some trademark rights can be automatically “earned” simply by using the mark. However, those rights are generally limited. For example, if your business only does business in Menasha, it likely won’t have rights in Little Chute, Kimberly or Waupaca. In order to secure stronger protection your trademark should be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO.) Start by searching the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) on the USPTO.gov website to determine the viability of your trademark. Then contact Epiphany Law to assist with your registration. Using a knowledgeable law firm will ensure success and keep costs at a reasonable level (generally $1,000-$2,000 per trademark).