Trademarking the logo and name of your business is essential to maintain its originality in a world where people have the tendency to see an idea that works and try to make it their own. Not everyone takes the appropriate steps to ensure that their company name is registered to only be used by them. Not only this, Trademarking is commonly used as a catch-all phrase and its definition becomes ambiguous. In this article, we will provide clarity on the matter. Let us start by defining what Trademarking really is.
What is Trademarking?
Trademarking is the registration process that prevents others from not only using the name of your business, but the symbol that accompanies it and/or the design you worked so hard to create. This process also compares your mark alongside all other previously registered marks to verify whether it is already taken or is similar to an existing mark. Trademarks allow you to exclusively use of your own symbol and name in your ordinary course of trade (the sale of goods or services), within a certain geographic area.
A Tale of Two Businesses
It is important to note that even after trademarking your logo, there will always be others who attempt to use the likeness of your business and even downright attempt to sell the same product and/or provide the exact same services you do. Take the case of Paris Banh Mi Café Bakery as an example in Orlando. The original registered trademark owner has sought to stop a former partner from using almost the exact same name for his business, Paris Banh Mi & Tea Cafe. When this type of infringement occurs, depending on how the mark is registered, mark owners can bring a civil action in state or federal court against those who attempt to replicate their name.
If the first mark owner is successful in proving that he owns a valid, protectable trademark, and that there is a likelihood that confusion will be caused by the copycat’s use of his mark, an injunction may be ordered. This will require the copycat to cease all use of the name. There are other remedies that the Court may order, such as destroying or turning over of any product that uses the mark owner’s name, monetary relief including profits made by the copycat, any damages sustained by the mark owner, and any costs sustained as a part of the action being brought or an order requiring that the copycat pay for the mark owner’s attorney’s fees.
In this case, the former partner was second in line to register his mark and therefore, Paris Banh Mi Café Bakery has a stronger likelihood of obtaining an injunction against Paris Banh Mi & Tea Café.
Trademark Infringement Factors
There are several factors that the court will take into consideration when determining that a party has infringed upon an already existing trademark. Those factors include:
- The resemblance between the marks
- The similarity of the marketing methods and channels of distribution
- Characteristics of the prospective purchasers and the degree of care they exercise
- The degree of distinctiveness of the senior user’s mark
- Where the goods or services are not competitive
- The likelihood that prospective buyers would expect the senior user to expand into the field of the junior user
- Where the goods or services are sold in different territories, the extent to which the senior user’s designation is known in the junior user’s territory
- Intent of the copycat user
- Evidence of actual, legitimate confusion
Source: Anderson v. Upper Keys Bus. Grp., Inc., 61 So. 3d 1162 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011)
What about Dilution?
Dilution occurs when a business of a different trade begins to use a famous mark, which then causes the uniqueness of the famous mark to diminish or tarnishes the mark’s reputation. When this happens, the court investigates how distinct the service or product containing the similar mark is compared to the original mark holder’s service or product. They will also consider how long and to what extent the product or service is used and advertised, as well as the degree in which prospective purchasers can recognize one from the other.
In an action for dilution, an injunction may be brought against the user of a mark if said mark has become widely recognized by the general public, and if the use of the mark is likely to cause the diminishment of its distinctness. In other words, if a mark is so well know that it is instantly associated with a product, anyone who tries to replicate the mark and place it on a good or service that is different from the famous mark holder’s good or service, may be prohibited from doing so, based on the fact that it may cause confusion.
Where is the Line?
Trademark Law, which is notably different from copyright law, does indeed have gray areas. Where copyright law encompasses original works of authorship, such as books, musical compositions and artistic pieces, Trademark law provides ownership of a phrase or name of a good/service. The line, many times, falls between whether the infringement marks a significant business venture. That is why, if you’re considering creating a business of any kind, your trademark is going to matter, and how your business is protected will minimize any gray areas that can potentially exist.
How to Register Your Trademark
Registering a trademark can be done individually by state or on a federal level. For example, Florida charges $87.50 per classification, which is essentially the area that you would like your trademark to encompass (clothing, mugs, gaming, advertisement, or services providing for food or drinks). A Federal Trademark is sought from the United States Patent and Trademark Office and costs between $225.00 – $275.00 per class of goods or services, which will allow you to stake your claim in your own name, throughout the entirety of the U.S. When you go through this process, it is a good idea to seek an attorney to not only help you to not only navigate uncharted waters, but to ensure that all due diligence is maintained.
Start your business on solid ground. If you are going to plan and spend time formulating a company, you deserve to get the foundation to a level where you can feel confident and comfortable. When Paris Banh Mi Café Bakery created their company, the partnership was strong, but that did not last forever. The owner of the store is fortunate he filed the trademark early. That action created legal armor that will protect the rights to his business name, which may encompass the products being sold. That is why trademarks matter, and that is why you must get it right from the very start.
As always, our attorneys can help make sure you have that legal armor. They know the pitfalls, and know how to avoid them so that when you are ready to begin your next business venture, you know who to call.