Protect Your Ideas: How to Stay Away From Trademark Infringement

Business.com / Legal / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

What can pomegranate juice teach you about trademark infringement? Quite a lot actually. Find out more in this article.

As a small business owner, it’s critical that you protect your assets and your brand. While it may not be an issue in the beginning, your trademark and patents could become exposed to infringement in the future if you aren’t careful. By learning from recent legal rulings involving companies like Pom Wonderful LLC, you can better protect yourself from potential issues.

Reasons Protection is Important

Obviously protection is important for business owners, but most aren’t aware of all the potential implications of not protecting trademarks, patents and intellectual property (IP). According to Stopfakes.gov, a government resource for information on intellectual property rights, U.S. small business owners are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to IP protection, “because they may lack the knowledge, expertise or resources necessary to prevent the theft of their ideas and products.” The website goes on to mention that only 15 percent of the small businesses that conduct transactions overseas even know they need to file for additional protection.

But looking beyond IP protection, it’s also shocking to realize that many small businesses don’t have proper protection for trademarks and physical products. Domestically, this can cause unnecessary disputes and may lead to legal proceedings.

A Recent Example: Pom

One recent example of how complex and confusing trademark protection can be occurred this past December when Pom Wonderful, a pomegranate juice maker, won its trademark infringement case against rival “pŏm.”

The issue was over whether or not the word “Pom” justified a trademark. Each side took a different stance: pŏm representatives claiming that the term has become generic, and Pom lawyers saying it’s an infringement on their existing trademark, with the court ultimately siding with Pom. 

According to Joseph Klapach, a Pom lawyer, “This is an important ruling that will protect trademark owners and consumers alike.” However, the lengths at which Pom had to go to protect their trademark should show small business owners that you can never be careful enough. 

Related Article: Important Things to Do After Your Trademark is Registered

Tips for Protecting Your Trademark

As a business owner or entrepreneur, are you confident that your assets are properly protected from potential infringement? If not, you may find yourself in trouble in the future. According to SoCalAdvocates.com, a lack of protection could eventually lead to long legal battles that may end up leaving you bankrupt and out of business. With that being said, here are a few tips for staying safe and secure:

  • Do your due diligence. When launching a new brand or trademark, look at things from the other side. It’s up to you to do your due diligence from the beginning and make sure you aren’t infringing on someone else’s marks. If you take any shortcuts, you may find yourself on the wrong end of the legal bench. The only way to ensure your brand is protected from the start is to perform plenty of research.
  • Focus on building a brand. Once you’ve built a solid foundation and are sure your brand and trademarks are unique, it’s time implement protection. The best way to do this is by building a brand. Recognizable brands are much less likely to be attacked than niche brands that don’t have a lot of popularity. It may seem backwards, but smaller brands are usually at a disadvantage and are much easier targets. If you want to protect your brand, make it as successful as you can.    
  • Choose a strong mark. The courts don’t look highly upon generic marks and terms. If you want your trademark to stand up in court, go with something strong and unique. You need a name that’s descriptive and specific to your niche. According to Ilana Debare, you get stronger protection with suggestive names, or ones that are unique to the nature of your business.
  • Register for a trademark. However, you don’t want to build your brand without first filing for a trademark. Otherwise, your efforts to build a recognizable brand will only expose you to infringement. Registering for a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is relatively cheap and easy and will protect your brand.
  • Defend yourself. The person who will best look out for you is you. Watch your competitors closely and monitor any potential cases of infringement. If you see an issue with one of these competitors, don’t be afraid to aggressively fight back like Pom did. They are likely waiting to see how you respond and will take passivity as weakness. On the other hand, swift action shows you mean business.

Stay Safe and Protect Your Brand

Your business is your livelihood and you can’t afford to lose it over a lack of protection. Much like you invest in security features for your home, you should invest in protection for your business. This means developing a strong trademark and actively monitoring your environment. If Pom’s trademark bout taught us anything, it’s that you can never be protected enough.

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