Now that you have a trademark, how do you use it to your advantage?
You are finally holding your shiny, official registration certificate from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Now what? Now that you have this piece of intellectual property, what do you do with it? If you are a business owner who wants to leverage your trademarks and make them work to your advantage, this post is for you.
Here is the key concept to understand today: intellectual property is property. Just like a house or plot of land, you can buy it, sell it, develop it, and rent it. This understanding is key for business owners who want to leverage their intellectual property to its full potential. Read on to learn how to use your trademarks at every stage of the business lifecycle.
Stage One: Protect the house
When your trademark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, you receive two very important things: a registration certificate and a federal registration number. The registration certificate is the proof of ownership. If you ever get into a lawsuit, the registration certificate will serve as proof that you actually own the trademark. In contrast, the registration number is what I like to call a “magic ticket” because it unlocks a new level of privilege for trademark owners. Let me explain:
A lot of infringement these days happens online. It’s copycat social media accounts on TikTok and Instagram. It’s people setting up deceptive websites intended to siphon off your customers or confuse them. It’s online marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon where people are selling fakes or unauthorized versions of your products. The good news is that most major online platforms - from social media sites, to website hosts, to online marketplaces - have free trademark complaints procedures if you have a federal registration number. This is why I like to call a federal registration number the “golden ticket” - because you suddenly gain access to free methods for protecting and enforcing the trademark.
In the first stage of business, a federally registered trademark can be used to enforce your brand, protect your ideas, and shut down copycats.
Stage Two: Monetize
At some point in business, you will start to question whether your business model is scalable. This could be for very positive reasons. Maybe you have a proprietary method and others are willing to pay to get certified in that method. Maybe your products are so successful that retail stores are knocking on your door. Maybe your original location is doing well and you are interested in franchising. These are all positive reasons why you may be questioning your business model.
On the flip side, you may be questioning your business model for less positive reasons. Maybe you are burnt out and stretched thin because your business requires too much one-on-one interaction with the customer. Maybe the business is not scalable at your price point and you need to significantly shift the positioning of the business and/or find other streams of revenue.
When it’s time to shift your business model, trademark licensing or franchising is often the solution. Licensing and/or franchising is a way to expand the business without directly having to do the work of expansion. It allows other people to sell your products and/or services (which advances your brand) as long as they are paying you a fee (which advances your bottom line). So when it is time to change up the business model and position the business to scale, a trademark license or a franchise is often the way to go. Prospective licensees or franchisees will want to know that you actually own the trademark, so you’ll be grateful that you already took care of that in Stage One.
Stage Three: Buy, Sell, Pass it Down
Once again, intellectual property is property. This means you can buy more, sell it off, and pass it down. If your competitor has an attractive product that would bolster your portfolio (or that would seriously threaten your business), buying the intellectual property rights to the product is one possible solution. When buying a business and/or its intellectual property, vetting the underlying trademarks is crucial. It is common for businesses to sign agreements limiting where they can do business, which trademarks they can use, and even whether or not they can update their logo. These types of agreements can smother any potential investment that you had planned on making in that company.
When it’s time to sell or pass down the business, the opposite concern is in play. No one wants to buy (or inherit) a lawsuit or a trademark with unclear ownership. Successfully selling or handing down a business requires keeping the trademarks maintained and renewed by filing periodic paperwork with the USPTO and ensuring that the trademark is free from burdensome consent agreements or other contracts that would cripple the brand.
Now that you have these trademarks, what are you going to do with them? After reading this post, I hope you can see that the possibilities are abundant.
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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