How To Protect Your Good Name And More

Barbara Weltman Your good will is tied to items of intellectual property, such as the name of your company, products and/or services. Before you invest your money and time marketing yourself, consider action to protect your investment.

Before you do anything
Small businesses are almost always starved for cash, but it may make sense to spend precious dollars on a consultation with an attorney specializing in intellectual property to assess your needs. According to San Diego-based attorney Larry Maxham (, every business has intellectual property to be concerned about. Ads, brochures and the names you give to your products and services – even your company name – are just a few of the assets worth protecting.

The time to act is before you actually use anything you plan to safeguard. Once you have put in time and money to create a brand it becomes more costly to abandon it and start anew. For example, consider what it would cost to change labels on a new product if it turns out that someone else has a prior claim on your brand name.

Recognize when words you use to describe your product or service need protection. The following brief description explains the types of protection you can obtain:

  • A trademark, designated by ™ or ®, is a word, name, symbol, design, logo or a combination of these which are used to distinguish the products of one provider from another. The ™ applies to unregistered marks, while the ® can only be used for registered marks. Examples: Coca-Cola®, Microsoft®.

  • A service mark, designated by SM, is a word, name, symbol, design, logo or combination of these that are used to distinguish the services of one provider from those of another. The ® is used for registered service marks.

Note: A trade name is not the same as a trademark. A trade name is a lawfully adopted name used by a person or company engaged in trade or commerce. In some cases, the same word is both a trade name and a trademark. The first is a noun, while the second is an adjective used to describe something.

You can distinguish between a trademark and a trade name by inserting the word “brand” after the name and see if it still makes sense in this context. Where the word “brand” seems appropriate, you are probably using a trademark (and not a trade name).

Getting protection.Before you start to use a mark of any kind, it is highly advisable to have a full search conducted by a knowledgeable attorney to determine whether there is prior use. Cost for full trademark protection: $335 federal filing fee, plus attorneys’ fees of $1,500 to more.

A copyright is legal protection for the way in which an idea is expressed (not for the idea itself). This type of protection can apply to brochures, newsletters, advertising and any other works presented in a tangible medium, including Web sites.

Getting protection.A copyright is a right that is owned from the moment of creation. This right is designated by © followed by the date and name of the owner (e.g., your company), plus “All Rights Reserved.”

But this automatic property right may not be sufficient to protect you. If it is reasonably possible that another company might copy your material and you would not be happy about it, then consider registering your material. Caution: You can’t enforce a copyright violation without registration.

The registration process is easy and inexpensive; you can do it yourself through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ( or work with an attorney specializing in this area of the law. The registration fee is $30 (attorneys’ fees can run to several hundred dollars, depending upon the project).

For details on government protection of intellectual property, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at

Note: There is a new Web site designed to help innovators and entrepreneurs secure their intellectual property rights here and abroad ( The site is part of the Administration’s “Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP)” initiative. Copyright © 2005 by, Inc.

Category: Entrepreneurship
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