At least thatâ€™s the way itâ€™s viewed by intellectual property lawyers and the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). Not being a lawyer, or ever wanting to be, Iâ€™ve never attempted to advise clients on the legal aspects of protecting their brands.
But recently I ran across a small book â€“ if it were a large tome Iâ€™d have left it on the shelf â€“ entitled Protecting the Brand and subtitled A concise guide to promoting, maintaining, and protecting a companyâ€™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 Iâ€™d thought Iâ€™d pass some of that wisdom on.
First fact: A companyâ€™s name cannot be trademarked. Well, it might be in some cases but probably wouldnâ€™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, â€œSignature Strategies, LLC.â€
But I can trademark â€œSignature Strategiesâ€ as a source of branding and positioning knowledge and experience. That means I canâ€™t use it as a noun, just as an adjective. In other words, I shouldnâ€™t say, â€œSignature StrategiesÂ® is a branding firmâ€. Instead I should say â€œSignature StrategiesÂ® services are multitudinousâ€. In this way it identifies to the source of a service.
Incidentally, you can legally acquire the â€œÂ®â€ only by having your trademark registration accepted by the USPTO. You can use the mark â€œâ„¢â€ even if you havenâ€™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, andÂ if you use the trademark be sure to use theÂ legal name as well.
As I say, Iâ€™m not a legal eagle.Â So Iâ€™d say its best to get advice from an intellectual properties law firm before tackling the USPTO website and their “simple” registration process.