If your business uses a specific word, phrase, design, or symbol that identifies your goods or services to your customers, you probably have a trademark. That mark has value to your business, so you should take steps to protect it. You might want to register your trademark, but even if you choose not to secure a registration, you may have common law rights simply from your ongoing use of the mark as you conduct your business.
Either way, if you find out another business is using your trademark to sell goods or services like yours, you should act quickly to end that infringement. The underlying purpose of trademark law is to protect against consumer confusion, and the sooner you act to stop infringement, the less likely it is that your customers will be confused.
Trademark Registration Protections
Although you do not have to formally register a trademark to defend yourself against infringement, doing so can provide you with additional legal protections. According to the USPTO, there are three main benefits of federal trademark registration: “a notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.” Should you discover that another party is infringing on your registered trademark, these protections will help you build a strong case against the infringing entity — and the registration may make additional remedies available if you do have to pursue your case in court.
When Your Trademark is Not Federally Registered
A competitor can’t copy your trademark just because you didn’t register it. In many cases, “common law” trademark rights can still protect you — and your customers — against the confusion caused by infringement. Without a registered mark, you’ll need to first demonstrate that your trademark has an established meaning in the minds of consumers — that they connect your word or phrase or symbol with your product or service. One of the benefits of registration is that it creates a presumption that your mark has that secondary meaning.
Once you show that your mark has meaning in the marketplace, the question becomes whether the other party is using a design, symbol, word, or phrase that is confusingly similar to yours. Is it likely that the other business’s trademark will make consumers confuse your two businesses? As soon as you suspect infringement, reach out to a knowledgeable IP law attorney to discuss how to proceed.
How a Minneapolis IP Lawyer Can Help to Protect Your Rights
Once your IP law attorney has determined that another party may be infringing on your trademark, a cease and desist letter to the infringing party is usually the first step. The letter informs the other business that they are using a mark that is similar to yours and tells them to stop. In many cases, the infringing party may not have realized they were creating customer confusion, so this letter may resolve the matter. However, some infringing parties will choose to ignore this letter or fight back, insisting that they have the right to continue using this mark. If that happens, you may need to ask a court to protect your trademark. Your attorney will work with you to determine the best path.
Reach out to the dedicated Minneapolis and St. Paul IP law attorneys at Rubric Legal LLC by calling (612) 465-0074 today.