Business is all about making money and anyone who tells you otherwise is either deluded or lying. And there are certain fundamental laws and principles of sound business practice that you ignore at your peril. One key principle is that you have to “spend money to make money”, or, in a broader sense, you have to invest time and energy into creating, marketing and delivering a product or service that people want to pay you for. If you create a winning combination of service quality and delivery then you have a viable, ongoing business venture that will make you, and hopefully a lot of other people, a good living while providing your customers and clients with products and services that will make their lives easier or better.
Another key ingredient is a trademark. A trademark is just what it says it is – it’s a mark of trade, a sign or symbol that represents who you are, what you stand for and what people can expect from you. A trademark is a shorthand way of saying, “I’m here, let’s do business.” But a trademark is more than just a picture, it carries with it the story of who you are. Think of famous trademarks like Coca Cola, with its characteristic red-coloured, flowing font. That word, written in that particular way, says more than ‘coloured candy water’, it carries with it over a century of associations. Like any great symbol, it links people to a story behind it, a story that distinguishes it from all the other ‘coloured candy waters’ out there. The power of the trademark is that in one symbol it can set you apart from your competition. The world is full of messages competing for people’s attention, so full that the messages often become background noise, but your trademark can lift you above all that noise.
The potential power of your trademark raises several crucial points.
What is your story? What does your business represent? What reputation do you have? What can people count on when they see your trademark.
A trademark not only represent you, it represents your reputation and it’s the most obvious symbol that the public sees, and while business names and registering business names are also an important part of business the trademark is what clients and customers most quickly associate with what you’re offering them. It would be hard to find someone on earth who hasn’t heard of Coca Cola, far fewer have heard of “Amatil”.
Given the power of a trademark, businesses invest heavily in the story behind the symbol. The public also invests in that story, creating meanings that transcend the product or service. Try telling a die-hard Apple fan that their iPhone is “just a phone”. In a very practical, commercial sense your business is its symbol.
It’s therefore paramount that you protect your trademark. Otherwise anyone can steal your symbol and with it the story and reputation that you have worked so long and hard on to build up, a story that distinguishes you from everybody else. Sound businesses justly protect their investment with considerable energy.
In 2002 a small sex shop in Kentucky changed its name to “Victor’s Little Secret”. International lingerie brand “Victoria’s Secret” wanted their lingerie to be sexy, not smutty, and argued in court that the sex shop was “diluting their brand” and argument that ultimately led to a change in the law in the US that now means that you only have to show the possibility of harm to your brand in order to win a case of trademark infringement.
Closer to home, investing in a good trademark can have surprising benefits. In 2013 the REA Group Ltd, owners of the domain name “realestate.com.au”, successfully sued Real Estate 1 Ltd, owners of the domain name “realestate1.com.au” because REA was able to show that people looking for real estate were using their domain name overwhelmingly more often and where therefore seeking their services. Search engines could nevertheless show “realestate1.com.au” websites and potential customers could easily miss the “1”, thus landing on Real Estate 1’s sites and inadvertently giving them their business. It was much easier for REA to establish its case because not only was “realestate.com.au” a registered domain name, it was also a registered trade mark, and arguably, granted them a de facto monopoly.
The REA case not only showed the value of trademark registration, it also showed that if it ever comes down to it trademark protection in Australia is far more effective when you have a good intellectual property law firm behind you that knows how to protect your interests far better than you ever might.
After all, it’s your business and if it’s worth investing in, it’s worth protecting.