If you’ve looked at any other pages about trademarks on our site, you’ll know we say the same thing over and over again. Trademarks are perhaps the most important asset your business has. Yet time and time again we hear from business owners that just aren’t willing or aren’t able to keep up with protecting their trademarks from infringement or dilution. Hopefully this post will introduce those business owners to a couple of great ways to protect their trademarks without having to sacrifice their spare time—if they have any—or was their money needlessly.
Monitor Your Trademarks for Infringers and Diluters
Trademarks are susceptible to two major forms of attack from other businesses, and the general public. These are commonly known as infringement and dilution. The details of each are too broad for this post, but in general, infringement means the violation of your rights as a trademark holder and dilution means, well, the dilution or tarnishing of the trademarked brand. Nevertheless, you want to avoid both from happening to your mark.
But how do you stop trademark infringement and trademark dilution? Before you do anything, you’re going to have to find out where the attacks are coming from. And in order to find out who’s attacking your mark, you need to monitor what other similar businesses are doing. After all, in general, it will be these similar businesses who are most likely to start chiseling away at your trademark rights.
While the easiest way to monitor your trademark is to find a great trademark monitoring service, you can also watch your trademark yourself. The route you choose depends on whether your time or your money is more valuable.
In any event, if you decide you want to monitor your trademarks yourself, there are a few free tools available that can help you out. The first is the, widely regarded as very user unfriendly, trademark search through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). TESS, as it is commonly known, allows you to search through the USPTO’s trademark registry with a variety of options. How often you choose to search is completely up to you, but the general recommendation is usually once a month.
The next tool at your disposal is to track social media and domain name registrations. See what people are talking about. Check out newly registered usernames that sound incredibly similar to your best-selling product. Should only take an hour. Or three. Or ten. Luckily, there is a tool out there that can help speed things up a bit. KnowEm, a social media and username search engine (with a very rudimentary trademark search function) can help you keep track of who is using what username on social networking sites as well as which domain names have been registered. This kind of information can go a long way to helping you sort out who may be trying to plunder your trademark.
Finally, we have the good old search engine search. Google, Bing, Yahoo, whatever your favorite search engine is, use it. Conduct a search every so often to make sure your mark isn’t turning up in places you don’t want it to. You can even use Google Alerts to notify you when new content with your trademark—or something highly similar to it—appears in Google’s search results.
Hire An Attorney Before You Send Out That Cease & Desist Letter
The cease and desist letter. Favorite document of all those who think they’ve found a trademark infringer. Sent to intimidate those who may be violating a business’s trademark into submission. But are they really all they’re cracked up to be?
Imagine this scenario. You think you’ve found an infringer. You’re absolutely livid that this guy is totally ripping off the name of your product you’ve worked years to perfect and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce and market. So you decide to draft a cease and desist letter to tell this guy to put a stop to his actions. In your haste, you adopt a pugilistic tone in hopes of making him shake in his boots. You send it off, and a few weeks later you get a response from the guy’s attorney. He’s responded to your cease and desist letter with one of his own—except this time he’s telling you his client has a senior trademark and he wants you to stop selling your product and change its name to something that’s not infringing on his trademark.
Yeah. That’s not a situation you want to find yourself in. But it happens to some business owners. They think they’ve found an infringer. They send off the letter. And whoops, it turns out they were wrong and now they either have to stop selling their product or they decide to fight a long and expensive trademark infringement suit.
And it can all be so easily avoided in two easy ways. First, keep your cool and don’t send off a cease and desist letter to every person you think is infringing or diluting your trademark. Second, contact a trademark attorney if you think you’ve found someone negatively impacting your trademark rights. At the very least, a cool head and a second pair of (well trained) eyes can go a long way to make sure you don’t inadvertently get yourself into trouble by acting too hastily.
Image courtesy: Steve A Johnson
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