For small business owners, the concept of trademarks and branding can be confusing. Many worry that the expense will be prohibitive, and instead focus on getting their business off the ground. Owners assume that they will be better able to deal with the issue down the road, perhaps after they turn a profit. But trademark experts say that this can be a major mistake.
"The time to think about a brand is absolutely before the brand gets traction," said Anthony Biller, a partner with Coats & Bennett in Raleigh, N.C., and chairman of the American Bar Association's Intellectual Property Law Trademark Committee.
Biller, who was recently interviewed by Reuters for an article on trademarks and branding, says that many entrepreneurs suffer negative consequences from failing to protect their brand name from the start. The article points out that a trademark application costs as little as $275.
With attorney's fees, third party searches, and a comprehensive search, the total can run from $1,500 to $5,000. But that is peanuts compared to the hundreds of thousands it can cost to defend a trademark litigation lawsuit.
Preliminary and more extensive trademark searches can help prevent a business from spending valuable capital on branding that proves too close to someone else's trademarks. Small business owners are also wise not to delay filing their trademark application, as approval often takes over a year, though the date of effectiveness relates back to the date of filing if registration is secured.
Linda A. Kuczma, a Chicago-based trademark lawyer with Banner & Witcoff says that the bigger the endeavor, the more sense it makes to be vigilant up front with regard to trademarks and branding.
"If it's a manufacturing company going to put its name on the mold of a product, costing tens of thousands of dollars, I suggest a comprehensive search," said Kuczma, "If you're going to do a major advertising campaign to launch something, it's important to make sure you're not stepping on anyone's toes."