Protecting Your Brand in an Expanding Market

What’s in a name? For many businesses, everything.

Time, money, and ingenuity combine to establish critical words, phrases, and images that not only identify a product, but attract and retain consumers. Although use of a distinctive mark in the marketplace can provide the user protection against infringement by competitors, disputes over who used a mark first are common in expanding industries where even novel branding can duplicate or mimic the branding of a competitor.

A prime example is the brewing industry. With a plethora of new breweries launching each year, not to mention the myriad of beers kegged, bottled, canned, and distributed all over the country each day, branding and protecting your brand is a challenge. Take, for example, the name “Hoptimus.” Although seemingly novel, the word “hoptimus”  identifies multiple beers from different breweries. Despite the clever use of pun, it may be difficult for any brewery who shares a common name with competitors to exclude another from the use of their creative (but shared) word without engaging in a battle of evidence over who used the word first.

The lesson to be learned from the brewing industry is to invest in researching and protecting your mark, and do it now. {See previous post: Ten Ways To Protect Your Trademark.} A comprehensive third-party search of trademark databases and more, followed by a careful legal review of your options and a federal registration filing makes sense for many new businesses and may cost less than you think. (The Karnopp Petersen eTip team can do that for a fixed fee – think “no billable hours.”) That “due diligence” can pay off in many ways, not the least of which can be avoiding a dispute down the road that forces you to rename or rebrand. And while some companies are able to charge ahead to success despite a change in name after spending time and resources developing their brand (click here for an example), such a change is disruptive and costly and worth working to avoid. Remember that, clever though your name may be, witty minds can be wired alike, and your creative name could quickly become an industry-wide term if you do not take steps to protect it.