Tag Archives: trademarks

Owning A Business – Part One

Owning a business is relatively easy. Operating a successful, profitable enterprise is an entirely different and more complicated matter.

The easy version is to figure out if you want a sole proprietorship, LLC, S, C, or other corporate designation and get a EIN, then open a bank account. You are now a business owner!

Hanging a shingle does not mean customers can find you.

Hanging a shingle does not mean customers can find you.

That may be what you think, but let’s look at what you don’t know. Most business owners don’t know what they don’t know about owning a business, so let’s scratch the surface with these few things from a long laundry list, in no specific order. Come back for more in part 2.

  • The first question you need to ask is why? Why do you want to own a business? Did you get fired? Believe you can do it better than your employer? Are you setting it up for your children to take over some day, and if that’s your reason, will want it? Do you want to be free from having someone else tell you what to do; and do you understand that consumers will always be your boss? Is this your retirement plan, and will it even make money? Or are you doing this because you believe you have a great product or service to offer people?
  • When you look at a corporate structure, consider if anyone else will be involved in the business. Are there going to be partners? Will they be equals or subordinates? Investors? Family members, including a spouse? How do you want to handle taxes? These are questions you will be asked by the professional who helps you set up the corporate structure, and you are wise to engage a business attorney to assist you with establishing bylaws, if necessary, as well as operating agreements and other legal documentation to protect your assets. Check to see if they are qualified to assist with patents, copyrights, trademarks, and any other intellectual property rights you may want to protect.
  • Do you know what EIN stands for? It’s the Employer Identification Number you need for tax purposes, both for filing your corporate returns and for your customers to report their financial relationship with your business. Engaging a Certified Public Accountant or Enrolled IRS Agent (EA) to assist with your corporate tax obligations, including quarterly payroll, is another wise decision. Your accountant can help make sure your chart of accounts is set up correctly, that you’re operating on either cash or accrual basis, and that your financial reports (cash flow, profit & loss, balance sheet, etc.) are accurate. They know the questions to ask, which is why we strongly encourage engaging professionals to help you.

We haven’t even scratched the surface or discussed branding and marketing and customer relations and location and many other aspects of operating a business, so check back for part two next week.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

Protecting Your Brand

Classify this as a “Did You Know?” blog entry.

If you are concerned about protecting the proprietary material related to your business, talk to your legal counsel about the steps you can, and should take.  Your attorney may refer you out to counsel who specializes in copyrights, patents, and trademarks, but it’s worth the effort to ensure your investments retain their value.

An example would be putting copyright information on your business documents.  You can insert the © that indicates “copyright” in your document, along with a date and an identifier, such as © 2013, Brand Irons.  While we don’t pretend to be attorneys, we do believe that simple act sets precedent.

As we understand it, where the legality gets sticky is if you pursue a violation through the court system, you have a far better chance of getting a favorable judgment if that copyright has been registered with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.  The fee may be as little as $35.

If you’ve talked to someone who either has or has tried to obtain a patent, you have probably heard pros and cons about the merit of having one on your product or idea.  These are processed through the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.  The key to having a patent on your invention is less about the filing process than it is about protecting your concept and product from being stolen by a potential competitor.  This is where your legal counsel can provide a valuable service.

If you have a patent, as we understand it, you should obtain signed non-disclosure and non-compete agreements with any parties interested in learning more about it.  The key is the signature and the date, especially if there’s an expiration attached to the document.  This, as we’re sure your lawyer would tell you, is the first step in protecting what you have. You must then take every other step necessary to ensure you enforce the provisions of your patent protection.  Again, consult and engage your attorney to handle these efforts for you.  You want counsel handling these matters so you can run your business.

When it comes to protecting your brand with a trademark, there’s a 7-step process to start with on the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office’s website.  From a protection standpoint, having a mark on your logo, service or product name indicates you have taken steps to protect the theft of your brand identifiers.  Will it deter knock-off competitors?  It should if the potential rival has scruples and business ethics, but remember that competition in our global economy relies on following the leader.

Yes, you should be flattered that someone is mimicking your brand concept.  You should also be aware they are diluting the market by causing confusion among consumers who have yet to establish their loyalty to your brand.  Setting the precedent of shutting down imitators sends a strong message through the marketing world that your brand is, indeed, your brand and one that will be protected at all costs.

Will there be emulators?  Yes.  Will there be loopholes in sustaining your legal rights to copyrights, trademarks, and/or patents and in protecting your brand?  Yes.

Your strength in these matters lies in the strength of your brand.  The more you create a unique identity that consumers associate themselves with, become and remain loyal to, the stronger the case becomes for your brand.

Another aspect of this topic that we’ll leave you with is that you should have a strategy in place for dealing with legal attacks of this nature.  Consider it a crisis, perhaps relatively minor but with potentially significant long-range impact, and be prepared to deal with it.

Think of it this way:  If you discover someone has launched a product with a similar purpose and knock-off logo, you’re already suffering damage.  The sooner you can nip it in the bud, the less significant the potential repercussions.  And remember, Brand Irons is here to help you establish and protect your brand.

Brand Your Work – Work  Your Brand