When should a startup or small business register its trademark.

When should a startup or small business register its trademark.

As a small business owner or a startup owner, when should you think about registering your trademark or your brand name? In my view, right at the very beginning. 

This is because if you are starting with a brand name that somebody already has registered as a trademark, you can find yourself in legal hot water right at the very beginning. So, it’s important to make sure you’re not infringing somebody else’s name. I went on a business accelerator recently and there was a participant there who had a great name, and I thought it was amazing and I’d never heard of it before, but when he checked, he found out that somebody actually already had it registered. 

It wasn’t a big issue, he’d been using it for about eight months, he hadn’t commercialized it, he hadn’t made any money, so he then had to change his branding. But it was a pain, because he’d already got domain names, he’d already built a website, he’d already got videos created with his branding in it. So the sooner you can get a trademark locked in, the better. It helps you save money in the long run, and lets you know that you’re not infringing somebody’s trademark. So what’s the big deal if you infringe somebody’s trademark? 

Some people say to me, “I don’t care. I’m not making any money. It’s a small business and no one’s ever gonna hear of me, how would they ever find out?” With the internet, people do find out a lot about us, that we might not want them to know, and it’s just not good to start a business with the thought that you don’t know whether or not the name you’re using is one that you can use. Your trademark is your superpower, it’s the thing that gives you more power than any of the other name registrations. So domain name, business name, and company name, are not gonna help you or protect you in a fight against somebody who’s got a trademark registration. 

So a trademark is the thing that gives you the brand protection. Having said that trademarks cost a bit of money, and they take seven and a half months before you get the trademark certificate. Although you can know, depending on which country you’re filing it in, within three or four weeks, whether it’s likely to be accepted or going to be problematic. So you can know quite soon, but before you even do that, I always think it’s a good idea to get your domain names registered as soon as you go and search for them. 

If you search for three or four that you like, and you’re not sure which one you’re gonna register as a trademark, register them as you search for them, because you don’t want it to be taken by the time you come back. That actually happened to my brother, he searched and the domain name was available, he came back 20 minutes later and somebody already had registered the name that he wanted. So it’s a good idea to sort out domain names, get a business name registered, get a company name registered, but understand that, that’s sort of a holding thing and is contingent on getting your trademark registered.

Once you have your trademark filed and there doesn’t appear to be any objections, then you know you’re pretty much locked in unless something unusual happens. It’s not a good idea to get your trademark locked in and spend the money on it and then you find out down the track that you can’t get the trademark. So, that’s the order of things that I would recommend and I recommend that you do it right in the very beginning. Start planning it, first domain names, then company name or business name, and then trademark as soon as you’ve got those domain names locked in. Because, it’s easy at the beginning to change the domain names, but not so easy to change your trademark. 

If the trademark is not available, that means you’re infringing somebody else’s work, and that’s when you have the problem. So domain names and business names are easier to get resolved. So then it’s better to get it done and to file your trademark application as soon you can. Because, as I said, it can take months or it can even take years to get a trademark certificate. In Australia it’s pretty quick with seven and a half months but for other countries, it can be two or three years. So good luck with it, my name is Cathryn Warburton and I am the Legal Lioness.

Cathryn Warburton About the author

The Legal Lioness. Overcoming severe bullying as a child instilled in her a passion to protect others. As a skilled litigator, she indulges in her dream to push-back against business-bullies who target her clients. She is an international award-winning lawyer and patent attorney and 5-time published author. Cathryn bullet-proofs her client’s businesses and protects them like a mama lioness protecting her cubs. She makes sure that no business is left without access to affordable, easy-to-understand legal information. She does this through her books, proactive legal workshops and 1-2-1 legal services.