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Biz Ladies: Trademarks 101

trademarks101
Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from previous contributor and owner of The Juniper Law Firm, Ben Pollock. In the past, Ben has shared his knowledge of contracts, copyright, and management rights, and today he enlightens us in the first post of his three-part series on the ins and outs of trademarking. Thank you for sharing such valuable advice, Ben! –Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump…

Behold the five most valuable trademarks in the world (According to Brand Finance 2012):      

trademarks

It used to be that a company derived most of its value from tangible assets — inventory, real estate, equipment, etc. — but today, the majority of a company’s worth is found in intangibles such as trademarks, patents, copyrights and trade secrets. And of the intangibles that contribute to a company’s value, trademarks are usually the most valuable.

So what makes a trademark so valuable? Think of a trademark as a vault that holds vast amounts of extremely important information. When people look at the Apple trademark they typically don’t just see an apple with a bite out of it. Instead, they may have thoughts of sleek aluminum casings, beautiful user interfaces, libraries of songs and apps accessible at the touch of a button, and possibly an accessory that never leaves their side. But perhaps more important than what people think is what they feel: loyalty, style, success, pride, satisfaction, excitement. That one logo represents everything you know and every opinion you have about Apple as a company — every experience, good or bad, you’ve had with their products and customer service. And every purchasing decision you make that involves Apple, or a choice between Apple and its competitors, will be informed by all that the logo conjures up inside of you.

Your trademark is your company’s “face.” When searching through the crowd of competitors to find the one product a consumer will buy, if they recognize your “face” and remember the good experience they had with you in the past, they are much more likely to choose you in the future. Your products and service offerings will change throughout the years, but your trademark will bridge all of them, lasting as long as the life of your company. It will be the constant in your relationship with your customers, and embodies all that your company is and represents. It will be what triggers the thoughts and feelings that (hopefully) persuade them to choose your product or service over that or your competitor. 

Creating a Strong Trademark

The value of a trademark is directly proportional to its usefulness in helping consumers identify you as the source of your goods or services. If consumers cease to (or never) find your trademark useful for that purpose, not only is your trademark not valuable, but you may lose all legal rights in it. Thus, the importance of creating a strong trademark that allows consumers to put a “face” to your company and quickly and easily identify you again and again.

The more unique your trademark, the more identifiable it will be. When I council my clients on trademark development, I often recommend that they use a word or phrase that has a meaning unrelated to the products or services the trademark will be associated with. Using Apple as an example again, they used an extremely familiar item/image, yet, because it has nothing to do with computers it stands out among all their competitors, none of whom use the name or image of an apple in association with their products. Such a trademark is more likely to be one that consumers will identify and recognize quickly.

To take it one step further, you could use something completely off the wall so that it stands out even among non-competitors. Take the trademark EXXON for example: they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on linguists and other experts to find a word that meant nothing in any language around the world, thus guaranteeing that when people see the word EXXON, they immediately identify it with one particular company and nothing and no one else.

Your company’s trademarks will end up being some of most (if not the most) valuable long-term assets of your company. If you make the right decisions in developing a strong trademark today, you establish a strong foundation upon which you can build a lasting brand and relationship with your customers. If you haven’t developed a trademark, or don’t have a strong enough mark to last through the years as your company grows, take the time now to develop one. It will be a lot cheaper and easier to change a trademark earlier than later, and it could mean the difference between stagnation and long-term growth for your brand.

DISCLAIMER

Please, please, please remember that the rules I laid out above are very general in nature and are intended only to give you a basic background on these issues. This is not actual legal advice for your situation. If you would like advice that fits your situation, you can find me at www.juniperlawfirm.com.

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1 Comment

Dave 'the coach'

The apple logo in your post is the old one. They stopped using the ‘aqua/bevel’ style around 2009, it’s just a flat solid black or white now. #justsaying

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