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Several years ago, I helped co-found a company called Cognate; its mission was to provide a platform for every business to document every name it used — not just the main product or business name, but every name.
As most entrepreneurs know, U.S. trademark rights belong to the first user.
No federal registration is required to enforce your rights. That presents both a great benefit and a great risk to all companies, but I will save that for a later discussion.
Today, I want to focus on how entrepreneurs can take concrete, cost-free steps needed to maximize their ability to reap the benefits of U.S. Trademark law.
- Make a list of every name you use or own in your business.
- This includes your federal trademarks.
- Every product name.
- Every business name.
- Every model or style name.
- Do not edit the number of names you put on your list; the more the better. If you make furniture and name every single one of the 150 (or 1,500) styles you produce — great. List every single style as one of your business names.
- Document every date of first use, for every name.
- Keep a file sample of your first use of the trademark, for every single name.
- Look at every name you use — in any away at all — as an asset.
- Classify each name you use in your business in one of three categories: (i) as a core asset, (ii) as an ordinary business asset, or (iii) as a utilitarian name or identifier.
- Consider federal trademark registration of at least all core assets.
- Actively manage your list of trademark rights throughout the year, keeping it updated with new evidence and proof of use wherever possible.
- Set up a Google Alert for your name and trademarks. This will help you keep apprised of what others might be doing with the same name. Alerts not only show you possible conflicts, but will also show you how often your names are being used by others in different businesses which do not conflict with you. This is an indication of whether the names make weak trademarks.
- While you are at it, consider if you should be protecting your rights outside of the USA (where unregistered names often — unlike here in the USA — have no legal status). …Also another discussion for another day.
Most companies — and this includes even the largest global companies — tend to vastly underestimate the number of trademarks they own and use. Critically, they pay scant attention to creating a full, complete, unabridged list of every name which they use in association with their business.
We believed in this concept strongly enough to create a company designed to help companies organize and manage all trademarks and proof of use evidence in one easy-to-use platform, which resulted in the world’s first blockchain-powered trademark rights protection platform. (Cognate joined GoDaddy last summer.) So whether you use a commercial platform, a spreadsheet — or paper, pencil and manila file folders — start off the year by documenting your company’s name assets.
Throughout this year, and every year, care for your investment by adding new names, and updating proof of use of the existing ones. Few companies — of any size — diligently follow this practice, but it’s one I strongly endorse.
January 2, 2019 at 02:11PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs