Posted Thursday, February 17, 2005
Small business owners learn many lessons the hard way - through the school of hard knocks. I recently experienced my own tough lesson concerning the importance trademarking my business name. Like many solo-entrepreneurs on a tight budget, the thought of trademarking my business name was not high on my priority list. Had I placed more importance on it, I might have saved myself some anxious moments, not to mention a few hundred dollars in attorney fees!
As a member of a couple different virtual assistant membership organizations, I often look with interest at other VA's business names and website URL's. One day I noticed a new member announcement for one of the groups and saw a listing for VA Office Solutions. Now this one hit a little too close to home for me - after all, my business name is VA Office Solution. I also noticed that she had a domain name to match.
Have you figured out my first mistake yet? I could have kicked myself for not purchasing the domain name, (http://www.vaofficesolutions.com), which is so close to my own domain name of (http://www.vaofficesolution.com). After all, even some of my own clients inadvertently add an "s" to the end of my business name in correspondence. I certainly didn't want people to look for my business on the Internet, and mistakenly find this other website! This could potentially be very confusing for both of us, especially considering we both operate similar businesses and conduct our business virtually, working with people all over the country.
Well the first thing I did was a little research on this domain name. I was able to find the owner and saw that the name had only recently been purchased, and had only been purchased for a one year period. This indicated to me that this was a new business, and she had only just started using this name.
Then next step was to get some legal advice. I had met an attorney who specializes in trademark law at a networking event so I gave her a call and asked to meet with her. I learned that I definitely had a good case, as I'd been using the trademark since 2001. Even though I had not formally registered the trademark with the USPTO (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office), I still had first use of the trademark, which gives me certain rights.
After meeting with the attorney, I decided that my first step should be filing my trademark with the USPTO (http://www.uspto.gov). Now this is something that I could do myself, without paying an attorney, but taking into consideration my own time constraints and her expertise, I decided to let her handle it for me. Also, since there would need to be a letter drafted to the trademark infringer after my trademark had been filed, I just felt more comfortable letting my attorney draft a letter that would be effective enough to get the infringer to stop using the trademark and take the website down.
So how did it all end? Well I got my trademark registered and we sent the letter to the trademark infringer. She agreed to stop using the trademark and took the website down. All in all, the entire process took about three months. I feel very lucky though, as I was able to find this infringer very soon after she opened her doors for business. By getting it done quickly, it should not have been devastating to her business and did not have an apparent affect on my business.
So what should you consider when deciding if you should trademark your business name? First you should conduct some research to make sure you're not infringing on someone else's trademark. You may be forced to stop using it if that's the case. If you decide to trademark your business name, then you must be prepared to enforce your mark. If you allow others to use the mark, then you can face abandonment and risk losing your own trademark. You should also consider the domain name issue. Do not make the mistake I did and let someone else snatch up a domain name that matches your trademark.
Be sure to visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark office at (http://www.uspto.gov), and then visit my attorney Heidi Pliam's trademark website, Trademark Edge, at (http://www.trademarkedge.com). And if you're looking for a good trademark attorney, be sure to give Heidi a call! Her contact information is on the website.
About the Author
Jean Hanson is a Certified Professional Virtual Assistant. Discover how partnering with a virtual assistant will give you more time to do the things you love to do! Visit her at (http://www.vaofficesolution.com). Jean is also the author of the eBook, Virtualize Your Business - (http://www.virtualizeyourbiz.com)