I know a lot of people think that once they’ve gone through the extremely lengthy process of filing and gaining registration for their various trademarks they are done and can just sit back and get to work on the rest of their business.
And while you can get to work on the rest of your business, you can’t sleep on your trademarks.
I had a potential client tell me they “never” monitor their marks, why should they? Well….
The law requires that you police your mark!!
What does this mean? Simply put, if you allow unauthorized use of your mark aka infringement, you run the risk of losing your rights in that mark. Meaning your business or brand name no longer means anything, and anyone can come out and name their business, brand, or product whatever it is you’d been using. Why on earth would you want to lose the rights to something you spent considerable time and money to secure? I don’t know, but it happens more often than you think.
Why do we want to avoid infringement?
Infringement brings about obvious issues, but let’s review exactly what happens when someone that isn’t you uses your mark in commerce.
- Your brand’s distinctiveness is diminished. This dilutes your brand and makes it harder for consumers to pick you out of a pile of other similar brands. This may cause you to lose business to competitors simply because someone else is using your mark and diluting your brand.
- Your brand’s reputation may suffer if a competitor or other business uses your mark to sell inferior products or services, has bad customer service, or supports or participates in questionable activities.
- Even if the unauthorized use seems harmless, it could result in your mark being considered generic. Examples of this are aspirin and thermos. Both once trademarked, now simply a word used to describe a product.
So how do you monitor your mark?
There are a few ways you can monitor your trademarks. One, hire me to do it. No seriously, that is a service I offer and if you’re interested shoot me an email to Shannon@montgomerypllc.com.
Don’t want to hire an attorney? That’s fine let’s review the ways you can and should do this on your own.
The United States Patent and Trademark office (USPTO) is where you gain registration. It is actually a pretty user friendly website and you can check it periodically for pending and registered trademarks using the TESS system.
Using the basic search function to type in your mark and screen the results every so often can be a great way to keep tabs on what is officially happening with marks similar to yours. If you can learn how to use the more advanced search function by using a free form search that’s even better because you will cast a wider net and yield better results. But, the basic search is still a great thing to do.
Google and other search engines
While the USPTO is a good place to start, it isn’t comprehensive enough. Searching on the line (name that movie) is another step you want to take when monitoring your marks. As I have said in the past, not everyone registers their trademarks, so taking to google and other search engines to search your mark, and combinations of it can yield results.
As often as you check the USPTO, be sure to check on as many search engines as you can online. This will usually bring up social media pages, articles, ads and other places someone could potentially be using your mark.
Speaking of ads (and html code)
You’re going to want to make sure that when you search for your trademark, competitor’s ads aren’t popping up. If they are, this could mean that your competitors are bidding on your trademark as a keyword, and that is a no go.
And to get even more techy with you, if a competitor’s mark is highly ranked in non-sponsored search results when you search for your mark, this could be a sign that they have embedded your mark into their websites html code. So be on the look out for that.
I know I said your Google search will likely bring up social media posts or handles, and it probably will. But, if you’re anything like me you already spend more time on social media than anything else so you might as well search your marks while you’re there.
Don’t just check for social media handles, check hashtags, posts, and even photos. You never know what your mark might be used in relation to.
State trademark databases and corporation names
Last but not least you can monitor state trademark databases and business registrations to see if your mark is being registered in a state either as a trademark or a business name. Most states have easy to use online portals where you can search for state business filings and state trademarks for free. Unfortunately, you would have to do this in all 50 states because they aren’t all linked. But, you could pick the geographic areas that mean the most to you and search there to start.
Come back next week to find out what to do when you find that infringer!
After all this monitoring, there are certain steps you are going to need to take in order to stop the infringement. But, we aren’t going to talk about that today. You’ll just have to come back and check my website again for that article.
I hope you found this helpful, and I hope you understand the importance of monitoring your marks. If you’re still not sure why you need to do this, send me an email at Shannon@montgomerypllc.com I would be happy to continue to talk some sense into you.
Please note that this is not meant to be legal advice for you or your situation, this is merely some legal research and knowledge on the given topic.