How to protect your brand in 3 simple steps

Like most business owners, you work hard every day to make your business a success. You probably spend countless hours working on the obvious areas: sales, marketing, research and development to create new and innovative products or services. But what are you missing? What you don’t know can hurt your business, and you’re probably missing some key considerations when it comes to brand protection.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many business owners don’t know what risks and exposures exist, or even what valuable assets they have, until it’s too late. Don’t wait until someone sues you or winds up taking advantage of your hard work. There are things you can do today to help fortify the health of your brand, and consequently your business. The goal of this article is help you identify and protect some valuable assets your business may have, which may help generate additional revenue and minimize the risk of costly lawsuits.

You’ve worked tirelessly and spent a lot of time and money on your brand and products or services, so don’t let those resources go to waste. There are three simple steps you can take to protect your brand, and they are:

·       Step 1: Identify What You Have That’s Protectable

·       Step 2: Make Sure You Own Your Intellectual Property

·       Step 3: Protect Your Intellectual Property

What Is A Brand? 

Before we get started, let’s first answer the question: What is a Brand? In the simplest terms, a brand is your reputation and what your customers think of you. Your brand is the reason customers buy your products or use your services. Therefore, it makes sense to think about how you can make your brand unique and stand out in a crowd. This includes how your brand is positioned in the marketplace. Part of the success you strive for is to create a brand that is reliable, consistent, dependable and any number of other attributes you believe are relevant to your customers. A strong brand delivers the same quality of product or service every time, and a strong brand lets customers know what to expect when doing business with you.

So if the above is true, don’t you think it’s important to build a great brand and protect it?

Step 1: Identify What You Have That’s Protectable

Is your business name protectable? Do you have a tagline? Does your business have a logo? Do you know if you own that logo? We’ll address that below. Do you have proprietary methods of doing business or a unique software? If so, what’s preventing third parties from “taking” – yes, I mean stealing – your stuff?

Protection may be different in each case depending on what your business has, but I think it will be helpful to review the three basic intellectual property protections: trademarks, copyrights and patents.

Trademarks protect brand names, logos and slogans that help consumers identify your unique services and products. Some examples of trademarks include Coca Cola, Nike and Mickey Mouse. Of course, you don’t have to be a famous brand to have trademark protection; I trademarked my tagline, “Legal Advice Before You Need A Lawyer.”  Imagine spending tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars on marketing, packaging and sales of your products or services, only to receive a cease and desist letter from a trademark owner claiming you’re infringing on them.  What would it cost to defend that lawsuit and have to rebrand? For some companies, it’s led to bankruptcy.

Copyrights protect original works of authorship, including photographs, illustrations, books, movies, paintings, songs and more. Believe it or not, even the tattoo on Mike Tyson’s face is copyrighted. If you use copyrighted images without permission, did you know you may be subject to $150,000 in damages per occurrence? And guess what? You may be liable for copyright infringement for just posting an image. Since damages for copyright infringement can be substantial, it makes good financial sense to evaluate your website, marketing materials and social media pages.

Patents grant the exclusive rights to an inventor to manufacture, sell or use an invention for a fixed number of years. For most companies, there are two main types of patents: (i) utility patents that protect function; and (ii) design patents that protect appearance and design. Think of Super Soakers, Dyson vacuums and Spanx. Patents can definitely help your company stand out from the competition.

Having any or all of the above intellectual property protections gives your company an edge and makes it harder for third parties to take your ideas without compensating you for them.

Step 2: Make Sure You Own Your Intellectual Property

Do you own your intellectual property? Surprisingly, the answer is probably “NO!”

You want to make sure you know who owns what when it comes to your brands and products. Unless there is a signed agreement to the contrary, ownership of copyrights and sometimes other intellectual property vests with the creator of any given work…yes, even if you have paid for it! 

Maybe you use third party graphic designers, marketing teams or social media firms; or maybe you use employees that work for your company. Either way, you should find out who owns what. Here’s why: you cannot control what you do not own; and if you don’t own your logos, designs, photographs, content, etc., then that means a third party can stop you from using their contribution to your brand or product because they still own the intellectual property to your brand or product. Worse yet, this may cost you current or future revenue.

Can you imagine if you hire someone to take a photograph for you, but then that person doesn’t let you use it any way you want? Or you hire someone to create a logo for your website, then that person objects and asks for more money because you’re selling shirts and hats using that logo? Of course, not…but it happens more often than you think…and it can happen to you. I could fill pages with cautionary tales about intellectual property ownership, or the lack thereof. Bottom line is make sure you know if you own your intellectual property!

Step 3: Protect Your Intellectual Property

Now that you know what your business has and whether you own it, you should have the tools to create an effective brand strategy. This means coming up with a plan to figure out what’s worth trademarking, what’s worth copyrighting and if it’s worth spending money on a patent. In my experience, I’ve found that it really helps to have someone knowledgeable, like an experienced attorney, help you navigate through the process and guide you along the way as you build, grow and expand your brands. I believe legal protection is the key to build and strengthen the foundation of your business, and the process costs less than you think.

By identifying your intellectual property, owning your intellectual property and properly protecting your intellectual property, you open the door to a world of opportunity. You create assets and good will that increase the value of your company while protecting it at the same time. Plus, you may be able to monetize your intellectual property by licensing your brand, product or idea to a third party.

Wishing you good luck and much success in your ventures! 

I’d love to hear what you think. Feel free to reach out with your comments or questions.