How you design your business is key to your success or failure so be sure to pay attention to what matters.
Believe it or not, intellectual property has to be your first consideration when you’re creating your business and brand. Why? Because IP is the key to creating a unique identity for yourself and for your products and services. That then enables you to stand out.
If you don’t have a legally protectable identity for your brand or key offerings you will struggle to get lift off in your business.
When IP is ignored or left till later there is either an immediate dramatic consequences such as receiving a cease and desist letter to stop using your name, or more likely in practice, an IP issue will lurk in the background like a silent killer waiting to explode possibly years later when you’ve become reliant on the income from your business.
Most commonly ignoring IP holds a business back without any dramatic effect. Nobody realises that the poor IP decisions, such as the type of name chosen, are the reason for the business’ lack of success or for its inability to ward off me-too competitors.
For example, it’s getting more and more difficult to find available names, so what tends to happen all too frequently around names when businesses first set up is that they are hit with a cease and desist letter or someone opposes their trade mark application. That may not matter much if the business hasn’t spent a lot of money around the name yet.
What is not commonly appreciated is that even where a business initially does a check to establish it may use a name, they need to check AGAIN when they add new products and services to their offerings or otherwise change their business focus.
As it becomes harder to find available names due to the multitude of people setting up in business and the global internet environment, it’s imperative to take the right actions in order to choose a good name. This invariably calls for good advice from an experienced trade mark lawyer.
Disputes can and do arise around trade marks, and whether the other side has a good case or not, if they take exception to your use of a name you need to deal with it. Trade mark laws have many grey areas and issues are often not black and white. So, make sure you have access to good advice when you’re choosing names.
Once you’ve thoroughly checked out that the name you like won’t infringe on anyone’s rights register the name as a trade mark straight away. This is the first thing I do when I like a name that’s available tome to claim. To me trade marks are like domain names are to others because I know that the rights to use a brand name come primarily from trade marks, not domain or company registration.
If there’s a name I want to use, I want to own it immediately. I won’t risk someone else getting rights over the name before me. This approach has served me well because in one case when someone else began using a name I had registered a year earlier (they also registered it after I’d secured it) I managed to get a handsome payment from them running to thousands. No way would this have been possible if I’d simply relied on being the first to use the name because that’s expensive and costly to prove.
I’ve helped hundreds of business owners and branding agencies with a variety of issues to do with names, copyright, and other IP.
I come across people all the time who are struggling with some aspect or other of intellectual property. I’ve known people make disastrous mistakes. They’ve either scuppered their chance of success in business, or more dramatically, even lost their businesses as a result of a naming issue.
In one case an entrepreneur had chosen a name very similar to the market leaders in his industry. He’d assumed that because the domain name was available it meant he could use that name for his business. His web designers and social media marketers to whom he had paid £100,000 to create his brand and fantastic website and promote the domain in the search engines and on social media, didn’t know enough about IP to advise him to check that he could use the domain name first.
It’s common for people either not to know that intellectual property is relevant or if they know it, to be unaware of what to do to manage the risks and opportunities that IP presents. IP really is a case of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Some realise that IP is intrinsically bound up with business but are misinformed about it and make poor decisions or otherwise take the wrong actions. This is true of many designers, developers, brand strategists and others that support small businesses too as I highlighted in my book Legally Branded more than 7 years ago. They’re not IP lawyers, so there is no reason why they should know about IP. The problem is that business owners assume their advisers know all they need to know to advise them.
Many agencies tend to tell their clients to visit their own lawyers about IP, but often the client doesn’t appreciate the significance of doing so, or just consults their general business lawyers for help tosearch or register a trade mark.
Business lawyers are not sufficiently specialised in trade marks, and therefore are not best placed to properly advise people who are undergoing branding. There’s a lot more to IP than checking that a name isn’t already registered or registering a trade mark. IP is more in the realm of specialist business knowledge than law in many ways.
Given all these hurdles that stand in the way of a small business who is trying to get their business off to a good start, I see a clear need for more joined-up branding services that remove the frustrations. Whether business owners are building a business to sell for a big pay off one day, or just want to run a successful lifestyle business they need to address IP appropriately.
The current disjointed approach to business design and branding is all wrong in leaving IP till later as a separate exercise. It is necessary to deal with IP BEFORE making other decisions. It’s also far more cost effective for the client to deal with IP upfront as an intrinsic aspect of the branding process so decisions reached are sound ones. And legal protection is relatively inexpensive if handled early on, alongside branding.
A budget needs to be set aside for legal protection as protection is part and parcel of branding. If you don’t protect a brand it becomes generic and leaves the business wide open to theft.
I’m on a mission to change the way small business brands are created and developed. I do this by offering branding services via Azrights bringing in the skills we lack inhouse by working with partner consultants. We also provide brand management services to branding agencies and small business owners so they’re able to make IP part and parcel of their processes.
If you want to be sure to get your business off to a good start introducing products and services your ideal customers will love and positively want to buy, then contact me for an initial no-obligation chat.
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