What’s one thing you’ve done to protect your brand legally that you think all founders should do?
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
1. Protect Your Web Content
Many founders know to trademark their logo/brand name; however, many founders overlook protecting their Web content. A simple way to do so is to create an account with DMCA. They are the global leader in DMCA copyright infringement take-downs. Once certified, display the badge on your website to act as a deterrent for content thieves.
2. Set up Google Alerts
It’s a small thing, but you can’t know if there’s a problem with your brand if you aren’t getting updates on where your brand is mentioned. We’ve particularly had a problem with copyright infringement, which we would never have realized without Google Alerts.
3. Use IP Protection
If you are seeking to establish a brand, it is critical to secure the proper intellectual property safeguards. These IP protections can include trademarks, copyrights and patents. It is important to determine which protections are relevant to your brand/company. Invariably, if you are trying to establish a brand name, it is wise to trademark that name. It pays to consult an IP attorney.
4. Create a Distinctive Mark
Trademarks in the U.S. are subject to varying degrees of protection based on the distinctiveness of the mark. A generic name will receive less protection than a name that is unique (e.g., a neologism such as “Kodak” will receive very strong protection, while “Film Maker” may not be eligible). Common words may also receive strong protection if meaningless in context (e.g., Apple for computers).
5. Register Your Trademark
The best thing founders can do to legally protect their brands is to register their trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. You can do it online, but founders should definitely consider enlisting the help of an attorney, as there are many forms to fill out and strict deadlines.
6. Get a Patent
If you’re a founder who’s truly doing something novel and revolutionary, make sure to protect it! Patents are an important part of the arsenal and give you the ability to protect yourself against litigation and copycats, as well.
7. Create an Employee Handbook
When speaking to lawyers, they have so many things that you can do to help you protect your company. You can buy insurance, patent your idea and trademark your name. What we decided to do recently is to create an employee handbook. If you have employees working for you, you need to have a plan in place to protect your brand, and a handbook is a great place for any founder to start.
8. Trademark Your Brand
All founders should file for trademarks for their brands. It is quick and relatively cheap to do atuspto.gov. In most cases, you do not need the expense of a lawyer or any other service.
9. Monitor Your Brand and Competitors
You can’t protect what you don’t understand, so set up a plan to monitor your brand and the brands of your competitors. TrackMaven and Rival IQ are two of the more advanced tools for tracking your brand online, but simple tools such as Google Alerts and Twitter searches can help, too.
10. Create Legal Divisions
Separate the different divisions of your businesses with LLCs independent from one another. That way, your assets are not all affected at once. It’s like having a tourniquet to save your businesses from affecting each other negatively.
11. Protect Your Brand in China
While the U.S. trademark system recognizes the “first-to-use” system to determine trademark rights, China is a “first-to-file” location. This means that anyone can trademark a major brand name. As a scaling startup, especially one that produces in China, protect yourself early before it becomes incredibly costly in the future.
12. Think Globally, Not Locally
Getting trademark protection for your brand and company in the U.S. is a good start, but it’s also important to protect yourself in other territories around the world. Laws differ by country, and even if international expansion isn’t currently on your radar, it’s a good idea to plan ahead to make sure you’re able to grow in the future.