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Before you take on the world, take the time to select good symbols for your business. Trademarks and service marks are the words, designs, colors, shapes, and even sounds that uniquely identify your products and services to the customers you serve.

Your company's reputation and goodwill are directly associated with your trademarks. Selecting strong, unique marks will 1) increase your company's visibility, 2) discourage potential infringers, and 3) add value to the bottom line. Strong trademarks can increase a company's book value substantially.

On the other hand, the necessity of defending weak marks increases your legal fees and "blurs" your commercial identity, leaving your company with assets of dubious value.

It's a Small Planet. In an Internet-connected world, most businesses are international. The United States joined the Madrid Protocol in 2003. As a result, owners of trademarks in numerous foreign countries are allowed to extend their rights into the United States. (Likewise, American trademark owners can extend their rights into more than seventy foreign countries.) It is increasingly likely that conflicts will arise. The more unique your mark, the better chance you have to survive this global minefield.

Trademarks may well be your company's most valuable assets. The federal registration is the most cost-effective way to protect a trademark or service mark. The registration gives your company presumptive exclusive rights to use of the mark throughout the United States in connection with your product or service. The registration serves as a public notice of your rights, which typically deters all but the most determined infringers. Should an infringement occur, notice of your federal registration is frequently enough to stop it, and the burden of proof in court is significantly less.

Another benefit of registration is that the mark can become "incontestable" after five years of registration. This means that your mark can no longer be challenged or cancelled except on very narrow grounds, such as the unlikely event that your mark becomes generic. An incontestible trademark can not be cancelled on the grounds of prior use.

 

A federal registration is mission critical. The lawyers at Symbus have engaged in a number of disputes involving trademarks and service marks. In many cases, the conflict could have been avoided or minimized if the business owner had obtained a federal registration when he started up.

Here's one scenario: A opens a restaurant in New York. He registers his corporation with the state, but doesn't bother to register the name of the restaurant as a federal trademark. Several months later, B opens a restaurant with the same name in California. They co-exist peacefully for a few years, during which time A becomes a success in New York and opens a second location. B decides to franchise and begins to spread across the country, eventually opening a restaurant in New Jersey. This annoys A , who begins to get misdirected phone calls meant for B .

This is usually the time we hear from A . They want to know what they can do to stop B from using the name of "their" restaurant. After all, A has prior rights to the name, and they want to expand as well.

The fact is, it's going to be very tough to stop B . The litigation will be very costly, and the best A will likely be able to do is to carve up the country so that each party has rights to certain geographical areas within their zone of reputation. A may well have given up his right to expand beyond New York.

However, if A had obtained a federal registration when he opened his restaurant, he would have secured presumptive exclusive rights to use his trademark throughout the United States. The chances are great that B would never have adopted the name in the first place, since the registration would have given public notice that A had the rights to the name.

Don't give your rights away; talk to us about protecting your trademarks. Why choose Symbus? Because we put your business interests first, and don't subject you to a lot of legalese and unnecessary fees. We can advise you on establishing a unique name that means only one thing: your product or service.