Getting a Trademark: The Why and How
Recently, I received the good news that my brand, Girl Gone Travel, has officially and finally had its trademark approved, registered, and published. So, really, it’s now Girl Gone Travel® (to be noted on my logo as soon as my designer/art director/husband gets to it!)
I started the process in March of 2014, so more than a year ago. Through the advice of friends, a few of them active lawyers, I did it through Legal Zoom. There’s a lot I didn’t know, and a lot I need to learn still, but I know that getting my trademark was a necessary step for my growing brand. When Domain.ME, the provider of the personal URLs that end in .ME, asked me to write a tech-friendly post that could be helpful and informative to my readers I thought to share this experience, which is fitting since as company, they aim to promote thought leadership to the tech world.
There are tons of stories out there of brands that have had their logo, brand identity, and content stolen. Tons. But in the blogging world, the most famous one came from founder and blogger of Around The World in 80 Days, more recently ATW80™. Not only was his brand identity stolen by a larger enterprise, but the same enterprise also replicated his approach to story telling through similar videos using an actor that looked just like him! You can read the first of a series of post recounting his ordeal here. ATW80 did not trademark his brand before the ordeal, but was well established and recognized in the space.
His tale was one that sent chills down my spine and a shock wave-like wake up call to our blogging community.
Recently, I was surprised to see this tweet from a major magazine with sponsored content in partnership with a major fast food brand promoting their new show, Mom Talk, which is a trademark owned for many years now by entrepreneur Maria Bailey, yet she was neither approached, nor informed that her brand name would be used to launch a national publicity campaign without recognition nor compensation to her.
In both these cases, the legal representatives for the bigger brands referred to a play of words, which they use as loopholes to navigate the system and infringe upon the rights of the trademark owners. The only way either the blogger or Ms. Bailey can battle this in the courtroom is to reach deep into their pockets, which as small business owners is far more of a financial hardship than that of the perpetrators. It’s sad and infuriating. But it happens all the time.
These examples would seem to be enough to discourage anyone from pursuing the trademark process, let alone start their own business venture, but I still advocate for it for anyone looking to legitimize their spot in the space.
One thing to remember is that though smaller businesses, especially in the online space, may not have the deep legal pockets of larger corporations, we do have the loyalty and support of our readers and audience. When ATW80 first reported on his battle with the corporate brand that stole his identity, troves of bloggers and readers stood by his side and spread his message world-wide. He obviously made some changes to his brand, went ahead and sought out a trademark for it, and has the international support of many, while the other business – though still operating – is known as the one who bullied the travel blogger, which is interesting because it’s a brand that caters to consumers just like him.
In short, credibility, honesty, and good business practices speak louder than words. How you behave and treat others really influences your success. As a consumer, I don’t only look at the services and products offered, I also pay attention to how the brands behave and treat others. Maria Bailey’s case is one I will be paying attention to very closely, but I already feel swayed to caution when I think about both brands involved in this questionable act. We can all learn so much from watching these things play themselves out, so I advice you to pay attention and seek counsel for yourself.
Getting a trademark does not mean that the case won’t come up where you will have to defend it, as you can see from Maria Bailey’s case, but what brands who infringe on people’s trademarks risk is the trust and loyalty of their audience and harm to their reputation.
Personally, there are a lot of brands out there since I started this site that have immersed using some variation of the words “Girl” “Gone” and “Travel”. I am watching them very closely as well, as are my readers who are often the ones to notify me (and are often upset by them). According to my trademark protection, no one can ever use those words in the same order as mine, and there can never be another Girl Gone Travel, nor can anyone use my trade name, Girl Gone Travel in any shape, design, font, or form, nor any set up that causes confusion or where misrepresentation can exist. i have set myself up to not go down, at least not without a good fight. That’s the value of a trademark.
What to be aware of
Once I filed, my application became public record. This is done to give anyone the opportunity to contest or challenge your trademark before it becomes official. I recommend spending the money, before the official filing, for a consultation with a lawyer who can give you information on any possible challenges you may face, let you know what boxes to check to report your business under (the more boxes, the more money), as well as a research team who will analyze the space to determine beforehand if there are any potential challenges.
The wait is a bit stressful, I will admit. It’s good to take some time to set up brand recognition before filing, especially if you aren’t sure that it is one you want to stick with. Of course, the longer you wait, the more you are at risk of someone else stealing it.
Having your records made public also opens the doors to unofficial solicitors. I was bombarded with emails and letters from people representing themselves as lawyers and/or members of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) asking for money to correct a problem with my application. The USPTO does a great job at making applicants aware of this issue and even provides a list of frequent offenders.
Once I did my consultation(s) with the legal team at Legal Zoom and took advantage of the various services they offered and had my application filed, I didn’t pay another dime. I did have to address some issues that came up throughout the process such as submit more information and paperwork, but not pay more money.
There are always more ways to strengthen my trademark, and I will continue to pursue those as I learn about the various ways trolls try to infringe on them, but I am so incredibly proud and happy to have gone through this process.
Trademarks establish your commitment to your business and brand. They establish you as the legitimate source for services and/or products that you provide, and help to protect all the work you have put into your business and brand name.
Solidify your footing in the space you occupy. Work on marketing yourself prominently to raise awareness of your brand and work. And trust that your community and readers will stand by you should someone try to step on your toes.
Fighting to protect is never pleasant, but at least having taken the steps to establish a legal identity gives you a better chance than having nothing at all.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Domain.ME; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.