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Trademark your Business

Here's a great learning opportunity for those starting their own small business.

Do you file your trademark with the state you are doing business in or do you file it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)?

This can be confusing and hard to navigate but here are some key pieces to consider:

First, what is a Trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies a product or service and helps customers distinguish it from competitors. Trademarks are a type of intellectual property, along with patents and copyrights.

This is totally unrelated to registering your business, applying for a patent or a trade name. This is directly related to your brand or product.

If you have a conceptual idea, creation or invention that you created and intend to share, sell or solicit across the country, then you will want to protect it from copycats, stolen identities, knock-offs and unauthorized use of your branding or images.

When do you know to apply with the USPTO versus the state?

USPTO vs State comes with a cost. How much are you willing to spend?

To file a trademark in New Hampshire cost $50 and is good for 10 years but only covers the state in which you do business in.

USPTO can cost up to $350 but covers your trademark across the entire US.

Is your trademark relevant across the country or your state?

For example; I have a trademark in New Hampshire "Live Free and Farm". Its relevant to NH due to the Live Free or Die slogan for our state. I could file this trademark with the USPTO but I don't really see how this "Live Free and Farm" will be relevant in say, Nebraska, nor do I see myself selling this trademark in that state either. I will share, however, that people here in New Hampshire have tried to use my trademark without my permission and I immediately slapped them with a copy of my registration. I could permit use of my trademark, for a fee, but insist permission is required or they could face civil penalties. My registered trademark carries legal protections for me and my business.

Now that I have a new business venture, I want to protect myself across the entire country.

When I started my Boot Blanket (tm) business I knew that my customer would be outside of the Northeast. I wanted to sell my western half chaps out west and through other retailers. I knew my idea was unique and almost impossible to find comparisons of the same product. For those reasons I want to ensure that my brand name, use and identity is never stolen from me or copied. I decided that I would rather spend the money and file with the USPTO office, which I did. Now my brand name, product line and use is unique to me and my business and safe from others trying to copy it.

Be careful with your Brand

Its so easy to get excited about your new brand or product. You want to offer sneak peaks and let people in on your "little secret" or give behind the scenes first looks. Trust me, it's better to get your ducks in the a row first. No one will know you waited to share it with them since they wouldn't have a clue either way. Spend the time buying your domain, building your website and social media and inventory. Work on your marketing programs and get your business insured, registered and trademarked.

Let me share a little lesson I learned a few years ago.

I was running a fun little "farm raffle" and published my very first social media raffle with huge success. I wanted to do something unique, fun and engaging with my followers and so I came up with this unique idea. Along comes a "friend" asking if they could "steal my idea". I obviously said no but offered to collaborate. It didn't take long before that person decided to go rogue with my idea and cut me out. I had to allow it to happen. I don't "own" raffles and it's a free country. I lived and learned from that.

A few years before that incident I created a business called "New Hampshire Farm to Door (tm)" and bought the domain, built the website and even registered the business and insured it. I collaborated with another local person on that project yet none of the business included their name. They wanted it to go nonprofit and I didn't. I had to have the uncomfortable conversation with that person to say that I was taking the business back entirely by removing them from it and making it profitable so I could pay myself. That person still claims that I "stole" their business from them. That was another lesson learned.

What's the lesson?

You have to protect yourself, your business, your brand, your everything. In just a few short years I learned very quickly who I could trust and who I couldn't. That was just here in my own state. Imagine the risk you have when you put yourself out there in the rest of the world. Some people want what you have and they will take it from you shamelessly.

I am now sharing videos and photos of my boot blankets everywhere and it won't take long before someone else decides to jump on my wagon. While I encourage healthy competition and everyone's opportunity to be creative and successful, what I dont want is for someone to use my branding that I have invested money into marketing campaigns against me. No one should be profiting from my hard work and investment accept for me. Period.

Collaboration in Business

This revolving meme gives me the cringe feeling everytime I see it. I see small competitive businesses sharing this meme on social media all of the time.

There is a time and place to support or collaborate with your competitor and I hate to say it, but, this isn't easy to do nor is it safe. Support and Collaborate are two different things.

Support: to endure bravely or quietly: to promote the interests or cause of: to uphold or defend as valid or right

Collaboration: to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.

A common practise for showing support is posting on social media.

You can "share" another businesses social media post but do you really want to be sharing a similar business to yours? What if you share some of the same customers?

You might be selling products for another business and share their logo or story but do you want to send your customer directly to that business or for them to buy the products from you? Showing support and protecting your bottom line are important to consider and you should be very careful you are not redirecting your traffic elsewhere.

Collaboration exist when you have invested interest in each others business. Maybe you all work for the same business or team. Maybe you have opposite business structures that compliment each others well. I have a friend who has a flower business locally. I offer Farm to Table dinners. I collaborated with her flower farm to host one of my dinners. We both got paid, offered a unique experience and both of our businesses flourished. But our businesses are not similar.

Then you have to be concerned about sharing intellectual concepts or ideas with others and trust that they will not take them from you. Like Facebook, PayPal and Ebay, Steve Jobs, McDonalds...

I, for one, would love for all of the local farm stores to collaborate and we build a sort of "motor mile" where people can visit this area of New Hampshire and hit every farm store in the area. Kind of like when I go antiquing. This would be an incredible form of collaboration that would be profitable for our area farmers. The problem is, no one here is willingly open to the collaboration nor are they trustworthy.

Make it Happen

You are an entrepreneur. You know how to go with the flow, be ready for change, and navigate this market. You will do it well, you be proud and you will be successful. Never undersell yourself or take abuse from anyone. You are your own business leader and there is no limit to how successful you can be. No get out there and trademark your next big thing and go make some money!

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