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Start-ups: Protect your Hard Work with a Trademark

December 10, 2013

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If you work for a start-up you are probably working hard for little current pay. You are doing it because your dream is to see you hard work pay off: build a company, create a new product or process and hopefully make some money for yourself.

Creating something new of value is hard enough. Getting it to market and getting it noticed can also be tough. Making it profitable is the ultimate challenge. But, what about protecting it?

The law has many ways of protecting property. Some would say the law is only about protecting property, but I won’t go that far. Some ways of protecting property: patents, trademarks, copyrights.

Well, if you’ve got what it takes to get patent protection (“inventive step”, the time, patience and money to pursue a patent) that might be the way to go. But, what if you’ve created an App or a website where patent protection just isn’t feasible, what can you do?
How can you make sure that no one will come along and steal your idea and turn it into their business?

As an entrepreneur, is this really something you need to worry about?

A Lesson from the Affordable Care Act (formerly known as Obamacare).

The problems with the Obamacare website are well known. It didn’t work initially, it was slow, and it was difficult to navigate. But, want to hear a fact that blew my mind?

There were over 700 fake Obamacare websites set up just to steal people’s personal information. That’s a heck of a lot of criminal activity just playing on their ability to mislead people using a url close to Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.

If you don’t think this element could find you with your newly successful website or App company, you are mistaken.
But, there is a solution and it isn’t cost prohibitive: Trademark protection.

According to the United States patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

What does trademark protection do for you?

Let’s say you developed an App that would allow the user to take a picture of a person and then search the internet for other pictures of that person and information about them. (This may already exist or it may be coming). You call this App: “Pic-to-Info” and it’s a huge success and the profits are rolling in.

If you had a good adviser you would have trademarked the name near the beginning of the development process. That way when the competition (legitimate or opportunistic) tries to take user away from your App by using similar urls, or similar names in the App Store you can evoke the trademark protection of the law. You can prevent anyone from using a name that is overly similar to yours.

Is Trademark protection expensive?

A US trademark application costs $325-$375. That doesn’t include attorneys fee, which will vary by attorney and the time involved with the specific case. There are annual upkeep fees, as well. And, you may want to apply for foreign trademarks, as well.

In conclusion, trademarks offer a good measure of protection, are cost efficient and should be part of every company’s strategic planning.

Avrum Aaron, a 1994 graduate of Columbia Law School, is the COO of Legal Outsourcing Partners, LLC. We can be reached at avrum@lop-llc.com or 201-379-9230.

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