Today’s topic is a continuation from yesterday around protecting your names, likeness, brand, or imagery. Basically, just looking at what are some of the things that a smaller local business can actually afford to do? What are the things that they really should consider doing? 

I’ll give you the 30-second recap if you haven’t had a chance to listen to yesterday’s episode, but highly encourage you to make sure that you listen to it. 

Yesterday, we focused on trademarking your main business name. The challenge with most of your business names is that they’re too generic and/or they’re being used by someone else that already has some potential trademark. If you’re going for something generic, like “Michael’s bakery” or “ABC moving”, or “Your Local Real Estate Agent”. I mean, whatever the name that you’re aiming for the name that you candidly already have as your business name. Often they’re not trade-markable and you can make one of two decisions with trademarks in general. 

The first decision that you can make is not to worry that you will never be able to secure the trademark. So, something like “ABC moving” — I’m sure that if somebody already owns that particular trademark—you would be infringing on their trademark. It also probably would be just a little bit too generic. Names such as “Your Friendly Moving Company” or “Your Hometown Movers” or things that are highly generic — words or phrases that are just common practice cannot be trademarked. If you were in an ice cream shop and you had a couple of different names for some of the things on your menu, and one of them was the “banana split” that often has on pretty much every ice cream shop’s menu. You have to be okay with the fact that you’re never going to be able to trademark that. Now that’s fine unless you have something that is secret or magical about that particular banana split that really starts to separate you from the pact. 

So first off again, I like to look at making sure you trademark your business name. I only will pursue a business name for any kind of venture personally speaking, if I can secure the trademark. My first digital agency was called Taz Solutions, I was able to secure that trademark. My second company and agency is called No Joke Marketing, of which we have that particular trademark, as well. So that means that no other marketing agency on the planet (almost on the planet but that’s another issue) in the United States cannot use that particular phrase for a marketing agency. Basically, that’s kind of the first thing you need to do — looking up the name of your business and then some of the names of any of your products and services.

Unless you’re coming up with names for some of your different products and services. So, if we go back to that ice cream shop example, what if you called it “The Magical Banana Split Three” like coming up with just something that’s a little bit unique. You might say, well, “Michael, why would I want to do that?” 

The reason that you’d want to look at naming some of your products or services something a little bit different, is so that you can be the only business that can use that particular name. If every ice cream shop has a banana split, and they’re all using similar types of ice cream, which there’s always a little bit of a difference, but some of them are just using stuff right out of the containers, how do you differentiate? You can be a little bit unique, but what if you had the same product, and the only difference was that you had a unique name. 

So it’s something that I want you to think about. But I will tell you that in working with local businesses, it tends to not be something that’s at the forefront of their mind. I’m kind of trying to encourage you to just start to think about it a little bit further. 

Now in terms of what else can you protect, if you have some kind of product or system or methodology that’s extremely unique, you can look at securing a patent. A patent is a process that’s a bit more robust, but it’s typically pretty expensive. Sadly, it’s not a topic that I know a ton about because I’ve never secured a patent, but I have a lot of friends and colleagues that have. The only downside to patents is that you have to disclose how you’re doing something or the drawings for what you’re doing. And once you do that, it’s out in the public universe. 

So if someone that is able to take that and say, “Oh, great, that’s a great idea.” And then they’re tweaking it a little bit and then making it their own — they can end up securing a patent that’s very similar to yours. Again, I’m not an expert on patents, but most of the people that are local businesses, most likely, that’s not the path that you would really be going down — it would be securing trademarks. 

The other thing that you want to look at is copyrights. With copyrights, you’re able to copyright books, articles, photography, musical compositions, screenplays, or graphics. Ideally, all different kinds of copyrights that can further protect your work. 

Now, the interesting thing with copyrights is that there’s a lot of information on there in terms of do you actually need to go down this path. I personally don’t register a lot of copyrights, I register a fair amount of trademarks. However, if there are some things that you want to make sure that you file with the United States government, you can file all of this stuff right over at the US Copyright Office. It’s only a $35 filing fee for a single author. What that is doing then is it’s putting it in the record that this is your copywritten material. 

Now, the other piece with copyrights and why there’s a lot of people that feel that they don’t have to register them through the Copyright Office, that you want to get in the habit of slapping copyright and that little C with a circle on everything with your name and business name, with a date that it was written. And that actually establishes a kind of common law, if that’s even the right legal term. But it’s putting it out there that declares it’s copyrighted. So you don’t have to necessarily file but the filing gives you an extra layer of protection. 

And I would encourage you to do that if there are some really technical blogs that you’ve written, for example, or just different things that you want to add an extra layer of protection so that your competitors are not trying to steal that or you’re not then having to get into a back and forth of asking. Is this yours? Is it theirs? Did they write it first? There’s just a lot of different things that you can do there — and it’s just one of those, again, extra layers of protection. 

So that’s definitely another thing that I highly encourage you to look at. So, you’ve got the three layers of intellectual property protection:

  • Trademarks
  • Patents
  • Copyrights

The only other thing that I want to throw at you that I forgot to mention around trademarks is that I would love you to also look at trademarking images. Trademarking can be words or images for example the Nike swoosh is a trademark image. The name Nike is also a trademark, but those are two completely different trademarks. 

If you have something with your logo, for example, you could trademark your logo so that someone else couldn’t use it. That’s just something else to kind of keep in mind and to look at as you’re securing your intellectual property. It’s just one of those things that it doesn’t seem like it adds a lot of value when you’re doing it, but if and when you ever need these, it definitely will come in handy. I can promise you that. 

Get out there, take some action, make sure you secure your intellectual property.