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3 Things to Think About When Choosing a Trademark for your E-Course

brainstorming session when choosing a trademark for your ecourse

By the end of this post you’re going to have a good handle on what trademark strength is and what descriptiveness is, and how they kind of play a role and in naming your e-Course. You will also have a couple of real-life examples of what can happen when you choose a descriptive trademark for your eCourse, and you’ll have an action plan in the form of a little exercise to do when naming your e-course programs.

The Spectrum of Trademark Strength, Descriptiveness, and How They Affect Choosing a Trademark for your e-Course

Trademark Strength

So first, the spectrum of trademark strength. Briefly, the trademark strength spectrum speaks to how protectable a mark is, at least initially. I have another post that speaks through the whole spectrum of trademark strength, but this post will focus on descriptive marks and online courses. 

trademark strength spectrum for use when choosing a trademark for your e-course
A little primer on the different levels of trademark strength

Descriptiveness

A descriptive mark describes a quality, characteristic, function, or purpose of the service offered under that brand. “Distinctive” is another way of saying “protectable.” Essentially, it’s that legal term that says that a mark is strong, identifiable, etc. 

Compare a mark like HOME GOODS to a mark like SPOTIFY. You know what you’re going to find when you walk into a store named HOME GOODS. But when you hear SPOTIFY, at least the first time you hear SPOTIFY, you’re not really sure what that company is about.

But on the HOME GOODS example, for the same reason that you know exactly what you’re going to find when you walk into that store, it’s also hard to stop another store from using that phrase “home goods” in connection with a store that sells home goods.

SPOTIFY, on the other hand, is so unique and so “distinctive” that right away, the owner might be able to stop someone from using a similar mark.

Now, descriptive marks like HOME GOODS, like SPORTS AUTHORITY, like BED BATH AND BEYOND, can earn that distinctiveness factor over time. Because it’s been used for so long it has such a huge following and huge market recognition, etc. HOME GOODS has earned that distinctiveness that’s usually reserved right off the bat for stronger marks like SPOTIFY.

The Supplemental Register

A lot of times if you file to register a descriptive mark with the US Patent and Trademark Office, the Trademark Office will require you to move it over to the Supplemental (or secondary) Register. 

The Supplemental Register is fine, and it does have some of the benefits that the Principal Register has:

  • You get to use that R-in-a circle symbol; and
  • Your registration acts as kind of a roadblock to later filed similar marks,

(to name just a few benefits).

But, the Supplemental Register just doesn’t have the same protections that the Principal Register has. Some of those beefier protections are:

  • The registration acting as notice of the owners claim of ownership and the validity of the trademark;
  • Filing for incontestability later. (I know I’m using a lot of legal words but “incontestability” is a huge thing in the trademark world. It basically severely limits anyone’s ability to challenge your trademark a few years down the road.)

You can file a new application on the Principal Register for a descriptive mark after it’s been registered on the Supplemental Register but you’re paying to register the mark again.

So when you’re choosing a trademark for your e-course, why not just choose a distinctive strong trademark from the get-go?

Real-World Examples of Choosing a Descriptive Trademark for your E-Course

real-world examples of choosing a descriptive trademark for your e-course

Okay so I’ve got two real-life examples for you from mega, female digital empresses. And my big disclaimer is:

I don’t represent either of these women, I’m just making observations based on information that’s publicly available from the Trademark Office!

So example number one is Marie Forleo’s B-SCHOOL. B-SCHOOL was registered but it was initially rejected based on descriptiveness. (‘Cause, you know, “B school” is how every college kid refers to “business school.”) The Trademark Office suggested that it be moved over to the Supplemental Register. (Check out the record for yourself, here.)

Another example is Amy Porterfield’s LIST BUILDERS SOCIETY. The LIST BUILDERS SOCIETY trademark was also initially rejected based on the descriptiveness and moved over to the Supplemental Register. (That record is here, if you’re interested.)

An Exercise When Choosing a Trademark for Your E-course

So here’s a little exercise to run through when you’re brainstorming ideas for your eCourse names.

You want to break up the page into three columns.

In that first column, you’re thinking through those marketing phrases, keywords or keyword phrases — things that your audience might search for when looking for a course like yours. These are going to be your descriptors, your descriptive words, right? Those terms might get you into Supplemental Register territory on their own.

In the middle column, think about the transformation you want your customer to go through when completing your course. Focus on the customer and what they will be once they complete your course.

And then, in the last column, you’ve got your brand name. This is your existing, core brand name that all of this will be housed under.

Now use some combination of the three and start working towards a strong trademark. Those first two columns could land you into descriptiveness territory, but now you have an understanding of what a descriptive mark is, right?

At the very least you could have blah blah blah descriptive mark by [your brand name] …whatever your brand name currently is.

So remember, while descriptiveness can be your friend with marketing and in connection with marketing purposes, it might not be your friend for trademark purposes.

I hope this post gave you some things to think through when you are going through the process of choosing a trademark for your e-course.

What’s that? Free info? Yes, please. Click below to learn four things you can do right now to protect your business online. 


Trademark Toolkit: An Educational Resource

trademark toolkit from spear ip

It’s no secret that trademark is one of my favorite topics. Trademarks are everywhere we look — from your Apple TV home screen to your Pinterest feed. In this trademark toolkit, we’ll talk about what exactly is a trademark, the nitty gritty on trademark searches, and things like domain names and trademark registration. Of course, this is educational. If you have a specific legal question, please reach out to a trusted attorney before making a decision.

What is a Trademark

What good is a trademark toolkit without a primer on what a trademark is? A trademark is a word, symbol, or phrase that identifies the source of a product or service. It can even be a non-traditional thing like a sound — you know, like that NBC chime that’s popping into your head just because of this sentence.

The NBC chime is a registered “sound mark” trademark.

When a consumer sees a particular trademark, she automatically associates a certain quality with that brand. That association is based on her experience with the brand. Trademark law ultimately exists to protect the consumer from confusion. How could you make an accurate purchasing decision if there were more than one Jeni’s in the ice cream section, or more than one Better Made in the snack section?

{Trademark Toolkit Checkpoint: What trademarks are reflected in my business?}

Trademark Search vs. Google Search

A Google search is not the same as a trademark search. (Although, it is better than nothing!) A trademark clearance search is a process that looks into similar trademarks used in connection with similar products or services. Yes, S-I-M-I-L-A-R. That means it could be the same word, but spelled differently. Or a related, but not identical, industry.

A thorough search should include the U.S. Trademark Office database and the broader Internet. Remember, a mark doesn’t have to be a “direct hit” to be a problem. If two products are kinda-sorta related, but travel in the same marketing channel, those could be considered too likely to “cause confusion” in the marketplace to coexist.

When I conduct a trademark search, it’s about a 3-ish hour process. I pull all of the results and do an analysis with three main questions in mind:

  1. Does the mark seems likely to be registered without any issues (like rejection by the USPTO)?
  2. Are there risks posed by other trademark owners if my client were to proceed in using her mark, even if it’s unregistered?
  3. Is the mark protectable?

By the way, How Do Domain Names Fit In With Trademark Availability?

It’s a good sign if a top-level domain name is available! But searching for and purchasing your domain name are not the same as a trademark search. 

{Trademark Toolkit Checkpoint: Have I had a thorough trademark search done for my brand name?}

The Benefits of Registration

There are a ton of benefits to registering a trademark.

First, only the owner of a federally registered trademark can use the ® symbol. (So, that’s cool).

Federal registration creates a public record of the information in the trademark application.

Owners of federally registered trademarks also benefit from certain remedies. (Think of a remedy as something you ask for because of the harm that’s been done to you, like money or an injunction).

Owning a federally registered trademark entitles you to special damages. Those include a) the ability to block imports that infringe upon your mark (a great one for fashion brands), b) the potential to recover triple or “treble” money damages for infringement, and c) the ability to file a lawsuit in federal court.

{Trademark Toolkit Checkpoint: Is trademark registration right for my brand?}

Post-Registration

Nobody likes to be a bad guy. I get it. The words “cease and desist” can sound scary and official. But policing a trademark is important to maintaining your rights. In other words, registration is not the end-all, be-all. You have to be diligent in making sure others aren’t getting all up in your business (literally) by using a trademark similar to yours in connection with their similar business. Trademark monitoring provides you with an update on any newly-filed applications or new websites (depending on the package you select). At the very least, you can set up a few Google alerts using your brand name and your industry.

{Trademark Toolkit Checkpoint: Have I looked into trademark monitoring or set up a Google alert for my trademark?}

What’s that? Free info? Yes, please. Click below to learn four things you can do right now to protect your business online. 

Trademark Scams and How to Avoid Them

avoiding trademark scams spear ip

Becoming the owner of a registered trademark has its perks. Plus, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office mails you a fancy certificate with a gold seal. In recent years, though, along with that certificate, the USPTO started sending out warnings. Warnings of trademark scams.

Usually sent on an orange piece of paper along with the registration certificate, the notice warns of “misleading offers and notices from private companies.” The fact that the USPTO sends these warnings certainly helps those who aren’t aware of trademark scams, but now scammers are reaching out to applicants right after the application has been filed.

Scammers use the data in your trademark application (which is public record) to get to you. So how do you spot a scammer and avoid falling victim to trademark scams?

Here are some telltale signs of trademark scams:

  • Look for an offer. Some offer legal services, some offer to “record” your trademark in a “private registry” or other registry. The USPTO is not going to make you offers. If you receive an offer, it’s not an official trademark matter.
  • Check the address... The United States Patent and Trademark Office is in Alexandria, Virginia. Any correspondence coming from elsewhere might smell like a trademark scam.
  • …and the email address. All USPTO email correspondence comes from email addresses with the “@uspto.gov” handle.The name sounds official…but isn’t the USPTO. A lot of so-called “agencies” may sound official. If they are not the United States Patent and Trademark Office, though, you know you can discard the message without worry.
  • Fees, fees, fees. In the U.S., you pay 1) a filing fee when you file the application, 2) a statement-of-use filing fee if the application is filed based on intent-to-use, 3) a fee between the fifth and sixth year from the registration date to maintain your registration, and 4) a fee between the ninth and tenth year from the registration date to maintain the registration. So if someone is asking for a fee to “register” or “record” your trademark… raise that red flag.
An excerpt from the USPTO’s notice on trademark scams.

Offers, asking for fees, shady names and addresses… trademark scams can come under any number of disguises. But now you have some education behind you so that you can spot the scams and recycle those unofficial “Official” notices.

What’s next? Click here to download your [free] Essential Legal Checklist from Spear IP.

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A Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy

Etsy is the first place that pops into mind when I want to find a special gift or something created by a small business owner. Want to open up shop yourself? This month’s blog post introduces Spear IP’s Essential Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy.

Here’s a brief description of the topics you should expect from the Essential Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy.

Business Structure

A lot of folks find themselves weighing the pros and cons of sole proprietorship versus something more structured, like a limited liability company. This list has some factors that could sway you one way or the other.

Tax and Licenses

You know e-commerce and the collection of sales tax was a hot topic with The Supremes last summer. Have you determined when and where you need to charge sales tax, if at all? What about a business license?

Trademark

By now you know a trademark is that brand name that everyone knows you by. The Essential Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy walks you through a few general trademark considerations (and some Etsy-specific considerations).

Copyright

Copyright law governs not only your typical creative works, but some not-so-typical creative works. Registering with the Copyright Office, getting your contracts in place, and using contractors are all topics that are covered in this legal checklist for selling on Etsy.

Photographs and Artwork

Copyright and right of publicity are two different things. (Remember the client query, “A celebrity is wearing my brand“?) This checklist will make you think through using photographs and artwork properly.

Policies and E-Commerce

It’s hard to hold a customer to a return policy if you haven’t posted that return policy. Posting policies and truthful descriptions of products are both things to consider when opening up shop on Etsy.

And there you have it. Get the Essential Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy here.

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How to Choose a Strong Trademark

how to choose a strong trademark spear ip

What is a strong trademark? The main thing to know about a strong trademark is that it gets a lot of trademark protection. (Compared to a weak trademark, which isn’t as protectable.) Put differently, a strong trademark is not “cooler” than a weak trademark, it’s just easier to police and protect.

So how do you choose a strong trademark? It helps to understand the characteristics of strong and weak trademarks.

Continue reading “How to Choose a Strong Trademark”

IP and Thinking About Your Exit Strategy

proactive ip protection and exit strategy spear ip

Whether you’re a brand owner or a future brand owner, you start to do a gut check this time of year. The soon-to-be brand owner? She starts her engines and gears up to launch her business. The existing brand owner? He does a review; thinking through how the previous year went. What to both types of entrepreneurs have in common? They must be thinking about an exit strategy. (Spoiler alert: taking proactive steps to protect your IP now will add value to your business, no matter the exit strategy you choose.)

Continue reading “IP and Thinking About Your Exit Strategy”

Opening a Food Truck? 4 Crucial Legal Steps

opening a food truck four crucial legal steps spear ip

Thinking about opening a food truck? Why not. The mobile food scene has been growing, drawing lines of hungry tourists and locals alike to many food truck windows. It’s a great way to test a restaurant concept prior to opening a brick-and-mortar location. Here are some legal steps to think through before opening your own food truck.

Continue reading “Opening a Food Truck? 4 Crucial Legal Steps”

You Can’t Protect a T-shirt Idea (But You Can Start a Lifestyle Brand)

protect a t-shirt idea lifestyle brands spear ip

“I have a REALLY great t-shirt idea.” “I’ve got an idea for a funny t-shirt slogan.” Many an IP attorney has heard this phrase at least once. Just like protecting an idea can be difficult, it’s challenging to protect a t-shirt idea. But a lifestyle brand? Now you’re talking. But be proactive: know how to safeguard the protectable elements of a t-shirt or lifestyle brand.

Continue reading “You Can’t Protect a T-shirt Idea (But You Can Start a Lifestyle Brand)”

Using “Cheap” Online Legal Services for Trademarks

the temptations and shortcomings of online legal services

So, you’re thinking about registering a trademark. You have worked hard to choose a mark that distinguishes your product or service from the competition. Now, you’re wondering if it’s possible to protect it. “Cheap” online legal services like Rocket Lawyer, Legal Zoom, and Trademarkia sure are tempting. 

Continue reading “Using “Cheap” Online Legal Services for Trademarks”

Put A ® On It: Color Trademarks (and Cheerios)

Color trademarks are unique beasts. Either color is an essential part of your packaging, logo, or overall branding (looking at you, Lyft), or color is kind of a non-issue. (Think about the rainbow of Nike swooshes you’ve seen in your lifetime.) It’s possible to register or “trademark” a color, but, as General Mills just learned, it’s not easy. Below, a little more on color trademarks and the registration process.

Continue reading “Put A ® On It: Color Trademarks (and Cheerios)”

Client Query: Can I Protect An Idea? (Probably Not.)

client query can I protect an idea

“Client Query” is a brief segment in which a common client question is broken down and answered. This month: the misconceptions surrounding whether you can protect an idea.

Continue reading “Client Query: Can I Protect An Idea? (Probably Not.)”

First Anniversary: IP Lessons from Spear IP

First Anniversary: IP Lessons from Spear IP

This week, Spear IP celebrates its first anniversary. From fashion, to event planning, to technology and beyond, Spear IP has had the pleasure of assisting its fabulous clients with their intellectual-property, contractual, and business-related needs. This post takes a look back at the IP lessons learned from the Spear IP Blog in the last year.

Continue reading “First Anniversary: IP Lessons from Spear IP”