Planning to Protect and Defend Your Brand

By Bill Chiaravalle, Barbara Findlay Schenck

To fortify your brand from attack by competitors and to protect it from damage resulting from misuse or mismanagement, be prepared to take these essential steps:

  • Register your brand name. The minute you decide on a name, reserve it as a domain name and as a username across social networks, becauase online real estate moves quickly. Then take the necessary steps to register the name with local government entities. The Small Business Administration provides links to registration steps to follow in U.S..

    For additional, broad-reaching protection, file for a U.S. trademark through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, conducting an extensive name-availability search and following a set of steps not unlike a root canal and that almost certainly benefits from the expertise of an attorney who specializes in intellectual property. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office also provides information on obtaining international trademark protection.

  • Defend the rights to your name. Protecting your brand name from use by others requires following two key steps:

    • Use it or lose it. If you registered your brand as a trademark, the mark covers specific goods and services, which you must list and for which you must be able to demonstrate use in commerce. This means you must be able to prove that the mark is used on products, labels, packages, displays, or documents that are associated with goods or services that are sold or in more than one state.

      If you don’t use the mark in all the categories you listed on your application, amend your registration. Otherwise you put your entire registration at risk.

    • Defend it or lose it. First, follow the trademark-protection advice provided by your trademark attorney and by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Second, use your trademark as an adjective in front of a noun that describes your offering (for example, Xerox copier), never using it as a verb and never allowing it to slip into common use as a generic term, in which case you would lose your trademark protection, a fate that actually has a label: genericide.

      It’s your job as a trademark owner to protect against misuse and to move quickly against any violations.

  • Create and enforce brand usage rules. Don’t assume that people in your organization will know how to present your brand identity. Write guidelines that cover how your brand name and logo must appear, typestyle and copy requirements, and how your brand may be represented on social-media sites.

    For examples of usage guidelines for established brands, search online for “brand identity style guides.” For examples of social-media usage guidelines, check out the Social Media Policy Database assembled by Social Media Architect Chris Boudreaux.