Understanding the area of Intellectual Property (IP) is very important for any new startup. You must understand what IP means, how it can be beneficial to you as a new company, and in particular for the purpose of this post – what a trademark is.
It took me a long while to really get my head around it when I applied for my first trademark, and to be honest I’m still not fully certain. But, I can assure you, if you start to engage with trademark attorneys, they have a huge fee, and they won’t educate you on this topic, so I recommend trying to figure it out on your own first.
So a very obvious start, but what is a trademark? – in short: a legal entity to identify a product/service.
Businesses, groups and individuals use trademarks, logos and symbols to generate brand awareness in public forums, in order to make it easier for people to recognise a product, business or individual by simply associating them with their trademark.
The most successful logos are best described as being ones where the actual sign doesn’t even need to be specifically noticed, because when people see a product they will instantly associate that product with their trademark or symbol within their own minds.
Trademarks have in fact made life a bit easier to live as they can be used to crossover language barriers, just by simply showing the trademark and/or symbol to an individual in order to locate a place, group or business in different countries.
I’m sure you can relate to some of the world’s most recognizable trademarks above…right?
There are loads of different forms of trademarks, from logos to text, and from shapes to slogans. I’ll throw in an interesting fact here sure: the roar of a Harley Davidson engine is trademarked (See article from the Wall Street Journal 1995)! No other engine can sound like a Harvey as it is a identifiable asset to the brand. Impressive and legal!
“Identical or confusingly similar”
One fundamental aspect to grasp, is that this form of IP is only granted if your text/logo/etc is in no way identical or confusingly similar to other trademarks in the market (i.e. if I wanted to trademark Macs Fastfood with a big yellow ‘M’ as the branding logo, and “You’ll love it” as the slogan – I don’t think I would have much success!!).
Applying for a trademark – the filing date is so important!
When you apply for a trademark, the legal reference date is the date of filing, and you receive 6 months of international rights based on that filing date. This is confusing, but for example – if I file for a new trademark today, I may not hear any word back from the patents office for say 7 months (generally it’s 3 months), and I won’t know if it’s positive or negative news. But in the meantime I can apply for international trademarks (UK etc) up to 6 months, and base it on that initial filing date for the Irish application. It’s a chance you’ll just have to take. There is a legal play going on here I believe, whereby I can ‘trump’ another companies filing date in another market as long as there application doesn’t trump mine from a previous application in another international recognised state.
What is the difference between a trademark (™) and a registered mark (®)?
When you submit your trademark (and following the initial approval of fees paid etc) you can officially start using the ™ symbol. This states that you have applied for the trademark, and your name will be associated with the papers. It does not mean that you have been granted the legal mark.
A registered mark is the officially stamp of approval to say that the mark is in fact a legally identifiable association with your brand. You own the rights to this and if anyone begins to use that mark, within the state(s) defined on the application, they can be fined and face legal prosecution.
The process from trademark to registered mark can last anywhere from 4 to 6 months, and possibly more depending on any objections to the mark.
Where do I start?
but…have you heard of the Madrid Protocol?!
You should also familiarise yourself with the Madrid Protocol (http://www.patentsoffice.ie/en/trademark_madrid.aspx). Basically, instead of paying for two trademarks, one in IRE and one in UK for example – you can get a trademark in all 86+ recognised states via one application form and at one price (it may be more expensive but could work out a lot cheaper in the end). Again, if you just file for an IRE trademark, you have 6 months preference on the Madrid Protocol too.
Remember: a startup can trademark a sound, text, logo etc…and it all adds your company’s assets…and I’m talking about the investable type. This is what investors will look for when inspecting your company. It is the arsenal of your startup; protect it, build it up and use it to further your success!
Let me know and if you have a question about trademarks that wasn’t answered here, let me know and I can try to help, or find someone who can.