To be able to charge more money than your competitors and to build value in your business, you may use formal methods of protecting your ideas such as filing trademark applications, registering your copyrights, and filing patent applications.
But, all those formalities can get pretty expensive and time consuming.
Here are 5 ways you can protect your valuable property without breaking the bank.
1. Choose Valuable Names.
When you are choosing the name of your business, products, or service, you want to choose names that are distinctive to the public, easy to protect, and inherently valuable. The more arbitrary the name, the more distinctive and easy it will be to protect. For example, Amazon.com is a random word to use to describe a bookstore. It is memorable and trademark-able simply because it is so arbitrary.
When you are choosing a name, brainstorm some possibilities and check their availability by performing Google searches, reviewing the “who is” database of domain names, and searching the trademark registry at uspto.gov. You want a name that is not already in use, will be easy to remember and spell, and is distinctive in the mind of the consumer.
2. Register Domain Names.
It costs $10/year or less to register a domain name. If you have a short list of business, product, and service names, go ahead and register the .com names for all of them before they get picked up by someone else with the same idea. For your main business name, and any valuable Big Idea names, register misspellings and other top level domains as appropriate.
If you are located outside of the United States, or plan to do much of your business in other countries, register both the top level domain for that country (such as .uk or .ca) as well as the .com domain. Also, register your full personal name (such as elizabethpottsweinstein.com), if it is available.
3. Label Your Stuff.
For the words or symbols you are using in conjunction with your product or service, including tag lines, label them with a ™ symbol to let the world know you are claiming common law (state law) trademark protection, even if you are not yet ready to formally file for a trademark registration with the USPTO.
For your creative works (writings, recordings, photos, video), label them with the copyright symbol, the date, and your name—such as © 2014 Elizabeth Potts Weinstein. In some cases you may label in the footer of the file itself, and in others you may use a watermark or meta data.
On confidential documents such as your client list or internal process descriptions, label them Confidential and Not for Distribution. These simple acts will let the world know you are planning to police your property, and will keep casual and uninformed people away (similar to locking your car doors).
4. Keep Trade Secrets Secret.
You may have valuable information that is valuable simply because you keep it secret, like your client list, your marketing system, or your internal process for creating your products or services.Take simple measures to keep these items secret, by using locked file cabinets, firewalls on your computer, secure servers or cloud hosting, and secure wireless internet. Have anyone with access to that information (staff, contractors, vendors, joint venture partners) sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).
5. Don’t Make It a Verb.
Don’t use your trademarked word as a verb or use it casually in descriptions of what you’re doing for your clients or customers. For example, don’t say “Xerox-ing a document”— say “make a Xerox copy.” You don’t want your trademark to become a generic term for performing that task or for that class of products.
For example, the trademark over the word aspirin in the United States was lost because the company who owned it (Bayer, then called Sterling Drug) used it as a replacement word for acetylsalicylic acid. The companies who owned Pilates and Montessori both lost their trademarks under similar circumstances. Unlike those companies, Tylenol is careful to use the trademark Tylenol as their brand, and not as another word for their product, acetaminophen.
They specifically label their medications as “Tylenol brand acetaminophen.” Other examples of brands that came dangerously close to becoming generic and losing trademark protection include Kleenex and Band-Aid. Both had to engage in expensive marketing campaigns to keep from losing their trademarks. That’s why the kids in Band-Aid commercials now sing “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand” instead of “I’m stuck on Band-Aids.”
Would you like more legal advice to protect your valuable idea? Let’s chat!