Do You Really Need a Trademark?
A question with both personal and business implications.
Occasionally a client will ask: “Do I really need a trademark? I mean, I’m proud of my business, but I’m not a household name or anything. Is this actually important for me?”
Sometimes this question is truly about cost-benefit analysis. But just as often, I’ve come to realize that it is a question about worth. The client is actually asking: “Am I worth a trademark?”
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with one particular business owner. This business owner had invested a lot in her brand, and her business was successful. However, she had recently discovered a copycat website that had gone to great lengths to mimic the exact look and feel of her business. As we talked, I explained how her brand could be protected through a particular type of trademark (trade dress) and how she could use trademark law to prevent other people from profiting from her hard work.
As we talked, she confessed something to me: she felt guilty about trademarking; she felt guilty about the idea of preventing other people from copying her concepts, and she doubted whether she was really original.
“I mean, who am I to say that they can’t use it?” She wondered aloud.
Sound familiar? When it comes to laying claim to intellectual property, some entrepreneurs secretly struggle with the question: “Who do I think I am?” If this is you, read on for three key mindset shifts to help you overcome self-doubt and confidently lay claim to your intellectual property.
It’s Not About Originality
The first mindset shift is a myth-buster: Legally speaking, trademarks are not about originality. Gasp.
That’s right. The trademark office doesn’t care about originality, they care about distinctiveness. In other words, they care about the public knowing where goods and services are coming from. You could have the lamest, ugliest logo or the most uninspired brand name in the world, and it wouldn’t matter as long as the public (your clients/customers) knew you by that designation.
Trademarks are therefore not an originality competition. Consider successful brands like Nike. Nike’s logo is basically a glorified check mark. Yet do you think for one second that they feel guilty about enforcing their trademark? Absolutely not. Nor should they.
Release the pressure of trying to be the first or trying to do something completely new. Even the law itself is not holding you to that standard, so why burden yourself with it? The truth is, all of us are standing on preexisting material. I don’t care if you are an accountant, designer, consultant, photographer, doctor, project manager, educator, or virtual assistant - what you are doing is not new. It is unique because you are an individual. But it’s not new, and that is okay.
You don’t need to be new. You are an individual and therefore you are unique.
Why Not You?
This is the second mindset shift. Some entrepreneurs hesitate to actively protect their intellectual property because they feel plagued by the “who do you think you are?” voice in their head. This is a false narrative, so let’s flip the script and ask this question instead: “how could anyone else be more deserving than you?”
Consider the following: Who started this business from the ground-up? Who invested their own money with no guarantee of a return? Who turned down brunch and expensive trips in order to stay focused? Who worked late into the night and got up early? Who studied for the degrees and the certifications necessary to be an expert at this? Who believed in this business when nobody else did?
You, you, and you again. Conclusion: there is no one more deserving than you.
If You Don’t, Someone Else Will
The third and final mindset shift is another myth-buster. Guilt about registering your trademark implies the idea that by not trademarking, you are altruistically leaving the mark free to be enjoyed by all. This is a myth. The truth is, if you do not register your trademark, chances are that someone else will. Trademarks are not an originality contest, but they are a first-come, first-serve contest. There can only be one federal registration for a given trademark in a given industry. So why shouldn’t it be you?
I hope this post is helpful to anyone who has been struggling with self-doubt when it comes to protecting intellectual property. This can be tough stuff to work through, because taking ownership generates a lot of different emotions. If nothing else, I hope this article has convinced you that no one is more deserving of your IP than you.
Thanks for reading the Bevel Law Blog! While this information is hopefully helpful to you, nothing in this blog is intended to be legal advice. Always consult a lawyer before making any legal decisions based on topics in this blog.
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