Why should you register your trademark? As an Austin small business, you may not think you need to register your business’s trademark, but this may be a mistake. Registering your trademark can prevent multiple headaches down the line as your business grows. Here’s why, for a business in Austin, trademark registration can be so important.
What Is a Trademark?
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines a trademark in these terms: “A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.”
In other words, your trademark can be anything, whether visual, auditory, or word-related, that defines your company and your brand in the public eye. For a brand like McDonald’s, for example, their trademarks could include their iconic double arches logo; the phrase, “I’m lovin’ it”; or even the short jingle that precedes it. For a brand like Nike, the trademarks could include the Nike swoosh or the phrase, “Just do it.”
For an example of trademarks for a small business in Austin, let’s invent one: Loose Leaf Tea, a company that sells custom blends of herbal teas made from all over the world. What could some of this fictional company’s trademarks look like?
- Their name: Loose Leaf Tea
- Their logo: A teabag with leaves coming off of the string.
- Their catchphrase: “You’ll never leaf unsatisfied.”
Loose Leaf Tea could register some or all of these with the Texas state government or the US federal government. But why would they want to? What are the benefits a business in Austin gets from registering its trademark?
What Benefits Do You Get Without Registering a Trademark in Austin (or Elsewhere)?
Whether you’re in Austin or anywhere else in the United States, you actually get quite a few legal benefits without needing to formally register your trademark. Simply starting a company and beginning to actively use your trademarks lets you benefit from common law trademark rights, which defend common usage by businesses without the need to master any legal hurdles.
Common law trademark rights are very valuable, especially for small companies just starting out, but while they do grant you some key rights, they have limitations compared to what you’d get if you register your trademark with your state or the USPTO.
Chiefly, under common law trademark rights, simply using your trademark will prevent others in your immediate vicinity from using your trademark or something that could be reasonably confused with it. However, these limitations tend to be very local, typically on the city or county level.
In other words, while our fictional company, Loose Leaf Tea, could reasonably assert trademark rights over another business in Austin trying to use that name, it would not be able to prevent a business in Dallas or Houston from calling itself Loose Leaf Teas. And because that competitor would now own common law trademark rights in their locality, it would prevent our Austin trademark from setting up shop in that city under the same name.
Common law trademark rights can also offer some level of defense. For example, say there was a much larger company calling itself Loose Leaf Tea based out of Atlanta that wanted to take its business nationwide, and so it filed for its nationwide trademark with the USPTO. While no new businesses could be founded around the country calling themselves Loose Leaf Tea, our plucky Austin business would likely retain the rights to use its trademark in Austin and the immediate vicinity. However, it would be unable to expand past Austin with its current trademark, as the other Loose Leaf Tea would hold the USPTO trademark.
Why Should You Register Your Trademark?
If you have extant rights simply by using your trademark under common-law rules, what are the benefits of registering it? Doesn’t that just sound like a lot of time and money for no good reason?
It’s true that if you don’t have any intentions of expanding past your local business, a common law trademark may be enough for your needs. However, if you intend to grow your business past Austin (or whatever city you live in), you should seriously consider registering your trademark either with your state or with the USPTO. Registering your trademark gives you many benefits:
It discourages others from using similar names.
Even when your trademark is registered, it typically only pertains to the industry you operate in, which is to say, businesses that could be confused with yours. McDonald’s is one of the most iconic brands in the world, but Old McDonald (of the song’s fame) could have his McDonald’s Family Farm brand and would have a reasonable claim to it.
Similarly, even when Loose Leaf Tea registers with USPTO, it doesn’t stop someone from registering a Loose Leaf Books in turn. However, if your brand is listed in the USPTO database, others may simply think twice rather than risk being confused with you.
It gives you the legal ability to police your trademark.
If you see someone using your brand name or logo and you have it trademarked, you can threaten legal action. Sometimes common law trademark rights might be enough, but if the business isn’t a competing Austin trademark, you might struggle to prevail. Owning the USPTO trademark leaves no ambiguity. Many competitors won’t bother with the hassle (or the lawyer fees) and will fold.
It lets you protect your business in other ways.
Imagine Loose Leaf Tea has an unhappy customer for whatever reason. Rather than a reasonable person, this customer is so angry they go on social media and create a fake account pretending to be Loose Leaf Tea to try to defame them. If your trademark is registered with the USPTO, you can message the social media channel and have a much better chance of having the offender removed than if you were relying on common law trademark rights, which can be hard to prove.
If your business is in Austin and you’re interested in registering your trademark, you should have the best legal partners to walk you through the process. Berkeley Law & Technology Group can help. Contact our experts today.