A Trademark is the Narrowest View of a Brand

At least that’s the way it’s viewed by intellectual property lawyers and the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). Not being a lawyer, or ever wanting to be, I’ve never attempted to advise clients on the legal aspects of protecting their brands.

But recently I ran across a small book – if it were a large tome I’d have left it on the shelf – entitled Protecting the Brand and subtitled A concise guide to promoting, maintaining, and protecting a company’s most valuable asset. It was written by Talcott J. Franklin, J.D., M.A..

I learned some interesting things and got clear on a couple of others. So I’d thought I’d pass some of that wisdom on.

First fact: A company’s name cannot be trademarked. Well, it might be in some cases but probably wouldn’t stand up in a federal court. The valid trademark is an adjective whose sole purpose, according to trademark law, is to identify the source of a product/service/entity/event rather than the object (or company) itself.

Thus, I cannot trademark my company name, “Signature Strategies, LLC.”

But I can trademark “Signature Strategies” as a source of branding and positioning knowledge and experience. That means I can’t use it as a noun, just as an adjective. In other words, I shouldn’t say, “Signature Strategies® is a branding firm”. Instead I should say “Signature Strategies® services are multitudinous”. In this way it identifies to the source of a service.

Incidentally, you can legally acquire the “®” only by having your trademark registration accepted by the USPTO. You can use the mark “™” even if you haven’t applied for a trademark.

Not even the most diligent of corporate brand police can always catch the misuse of a trademark in this way because people being people will use shortcuts. But a company must demonstrate its intent to comply if it ever comes up in court.

In a very practical way, business cards and stationery can comply by adhering to this simple rule: Keep the trademarked designation away from the legally adopted name and address, and  if you use the trademark be sure to use the legal name as well.

As I say, I’m not a legal eagle. So I’d say its best to get advice from an intellectual properties law firm before tackling the USPTO website and their “simple” registration process.

Martin Jelsema
303-242-5975

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