Certainly, there are many apparel manufacturers capable of making a white blouse – but only you can make a white blouse with your trademarked brand name on the label. So what if another company starts manufacturing white blouses or other clothing with a brand name that is confusingly similar to yours? Regardless of whether the competing company simply didn’t do its research or is intentionally trying to benefit from your brand equity, there’s no doubt that its actions could have a huge, detrimental impact to your brand. But what happens next depends on whether you own a federally registered trademark for your brand name.Receiving a trademark registration with the federal government allows you to claim exclusive rights to use that name as it relates to your products within the United States. In the situation described above, having a federally registered trademark on your brand name gives you the legal backing to request that the competing business cease and desist using the name or face the potential of a lawsuit, complete with damages. But if you don’t have a federally registered trademark for the brand name, your legal options are much more limited. You can ask the other brand to stop using the name, but if they choose to continue, you have a potentially time-consuming and expensive road ahead of you – a road that may not even lead to the outcome you want.One recent example of this situation can be seen in a case between Robert Kloetzy, owner of California clothing company Lucky 13, and pop star Taylor Swift. Kloetzy owns the federal trademark to “Lucky 13” and when Swift began selling t-shirts featuring a shamrock design and the phrase Lucky 13 – a reference to her birthdate and favorite number – Kloetzy initially reached out to the singer’s team requesting a licensing fee for use of his trademarked phrase on her products. When Swift’s camp neglected to reply, Kloetzy filed suit requesting Swift’s e-commerce site be shut down, in addition to monetary damages. The singer and the brand have since settled the case out of court, but you can bet that if Kloetzy had not owned the federally-registered trademark to the name “Lucky 13” in the clothing industry that things may have ended up radically different for both brands.Trademark registrations deter others from using the same name
When you were considering different brand names for your apparel line, you probably did a quick Google search or even a search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website to see if a particular name was already “taken.” That’s not unusual – it’s what most brand managers do during early in the naming process.The reality is that most businesses actively want to avoid infringing on someone else’s trademark, and if they see that another company already owns the trademark to a specific name, they will simply move on to the next name on their list. Having a federal trademark registration on your name will deter most other businesses from going forward with the same name and will give you legal recourse in case one decides to try.Social media (and other entities) turn to federal trademark ownership to settle disputes
A federally-registered trademark can also help protect your brand in the increasingly important world of social media. Imagine that in the process of launching your new clothing line, you go on Pinterest to create an account and realize that another business has poached your name in an attempt to benefit from your brand equity. The fact that you own a trademark for that brand name will make it much easier for you to stop the other business from using your name without ever having to step into court.Social media sites such as Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all rely on the federal trademark registry to determine the rightful owner of a trademark should a dispute arise. In fact, all of the sites have online Trademark Infringement Reports where you can bring an infringement issue to their attention. In most situations, simply being able to include your federal trademark registration number in the online form is enough to prove ownership and get the social media site to side with you on the issue.
Prioritize the trademark process in your branding roadmap
When working on naming and branding for your new apparel line, don’t overlook the importance of obtaining federally registered trademarks in the process. Applying for and receiving a federally-registered trademark for your brand name will help you avoid going to court by deterring others from using the same name and giving you an advantage in enforcing the trademark without having to go to court. Additionally, owning a federal trademark registration for a name offers you the greatest level of legal protection against others using the same or similar names.
Remembering trademarks in your branding roadmap will help ensure the integrity and longevity of your business and your brand for years to come.
Josh Gerben is the principal of the Gerben Law Firm, PLLC, a firm that focuses specifically on trademark law and services. Gerben Law works with business across the United States and the world looking to protect their assets both online and offline. You can learn more about Gerben on his blog.