Trademarks and Why they’re Important for your Small Business

There’s so much to think about when starting up a new business and it is a common misconception that trademarking is a ‘big business problem’. It is important to gather all necessary information to make an educated decision, that is best for your business. IP Australia is a government agency that is responsible for administering intellectual property rights (IP). This includes patents, how an invention works, a trademark and your brand design.  

IP Australia has found that only 4% of small businesses in Australia currently have a registered trademark.  

The reason for this is largely due to the lack of awareness of what a registered trademark is, the benefits to your brand or business and a perceived financial barrier to getting started. To bridge the gap IP Australia have now created a free program called TM Checker, where you can enter your brand name and logo, and can see if there are any similar trademarks already registered under IP Australia. 

Everything business owners need to know about trademarks: 

1. TM Checker

TM Checker is an entirely free resource for businesses. Being cost effective is beneficial for small businesses who are just starting out, without the resources to commit to expensive programs or services. It allows small businesses the ability to navigate the application process as quickly as possible and educate themselves when they might not otherwise engage with the IP system and its processes. This tool also assists with the creation of logos and branding for your business. Currently there are so many ways to create logos, and it is always a risk if another business steals your design. A designer could enter their logo into TM Checker and see if there is a potential conflict with existing logos and trademarks. This prevents issues for your business later, after the logo has been added to your branding and social media. It is important to identify these issues early on, saving you money, time, and stress.

2. Benefits of trademarks

It is of value to your business to understand the value of trademarks – put simply they differentiate your brand from its competitors and give your business a unique identity. A trademark can be anything from a brand name, logo, jingle or a business name on the side of vehicles. Registering your trademark protects you from unauthorized use, resulting in loss of sales or a damaged reputation for your small business. Once your trademark is registered through IP Australia, it gives you exclusive right to use your brand as a trademark. Trademarking can also include website domain names and social media handles. This allows for businesses to sell their products and services digitally in the future without risk of being locked by someone else who registers instead.

3. Differences between a trademark and a registered trademark

When trademarking your brand, a TM will be seen beside the logo or business name. The TM is a placeholder before the registered trademark is completed. TM is like marking your ownership, but you are not protected under the legal system. To legally protect your brand or logo, you should have an R symbol in a circle. This symbol means you have registered your brand under IP Australia and have exclusive ownership over your trademark.

4. Protecting your trademark

Once you register your trademark, you may need to continue to enforce it, for example monitoring for unauthorised use or infringement. This can be done through regularly searching for similar marks, monitoring your competitor’s and keeping an eye on online marketplaces and social media platforms. If you find a business to be using your registered trademark without authorisation, there are a number of options available to you. These methods include a cease-and-desist letter, contacting an IP Australia attorney and taking legal action, taking an alternative dispute resolution or common law provisions.

It is important to work to develop a strong brand identity, that reflects your values, mission and what your business is trying to achieve. From there, you can develop your own unique trademark, that will identify your business, services and products. Use tools available to you such as free resources from IP Australia, TM Checker to conduct a search to ensure your trademark isn’t already in use and allow yourself time to understand why your business needs trademarks and what protection is offered once you register it.

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