Business name registration in your state is all you need to protect yourself, right? WRONG! This is the attitude of so many businesses, and frankly, it scares me! It scares me because there is limited information out there about IP protection for small businesses and this is where it is so vital – one step wrong and your entire life’s hard work could come tumbling down. I read about devastating IP battles every day, where the little guy always loses out. So I’m here to set the record straight – and it’s up to you to pass this on to every small business owner you know.
All a business name registration does, is ensure that no-one else in your state can register that exact same business name. But, what it does not offer is national protection, and it certainly does not offer protection against the real big daddy of IP ownership, trademarks.
Picture this. You open a business, secure the business name, and invest in stock, premisses, equipment, branding, signage, stationery, staff, uniforms – the whole lot. You begin business and everything goes well. Then, in the mail you receive a letter from a legal firm: ‘you are offending the trademark of xyz business, and you must cease and desist your operations under your current business name, otherwise legal action will result’. Do you have a leg to stand on? The answer is no. You are stuffed. You need to remove all your branding and anywhere the business name appears, and start again. You then need to tell your customers and your staff that you stuffed up – your reputation is lost, and you feel damn embarrassed not to mention, hugely out of pocket.
This is no hypothetical – it’s reality for small businesses all over the country. It’s a horror story I read about all the time. Only yesterday I read about a small business who has opened up using a similar business name as a large department store which closed down several years ago. But, no-where did they mention they conducted a trade mark search to ensure they weren’t offending anything that was still in existence (trademark registration lasts for 10 years). For their sake, I can only hope they aren’t.
Did anyone warn you about this when you started your business, or registered your business name? I’d be surprised if they did. The system for providing this information to business owners is extremely unconsolidated, chaotic and confusing. I know there are people fighting to have the system rectified, but in the mean time, business owners need to understand that protection is not as easy as it seems.
There are ways to search the trademarks database before registering a business name and we can help – and also know that before we create any logo, or recommend a business name, this is the first place we start.
So, are you wearing the right protection?