Many entrepreneurs are so passionate about their business that they often put the more mundane tasks such as obtaining legal advice on brand protection on the back burner. However, failing to protect your brand early on can cause some complex issues to arise later. Below, we’ll explore three key steps you can take to protect your brand sooner rather than later.
1. Register Your Trade Marks
One of the first steps an entrepreneur should take when starting a business is to trade mark their brand name and logo. It is important for entrepreneurs to think about the business’ long-term goals to ensure their trade mark applications are correct from the outset.
Entrepreneurs who register a trade mark will receive the exclusive right to use the mark for their particular good or service. The trade mark registration process is also important because it will reveal whether there are any other similar brands or logos already registered. If a similar name already exists, business owners can rethink their name or make some changes before they have established any brand reputation.
Discovering that someone else has registered trade marks that are similar to your brand name or logo is not fatal. A business could still proceed with registration depending on the business’ category and the distinctiveness of the mark. Your chances of registering the trade mark increase if the business that has already registered the trade mark delivers an entirely different product or service.
2. Registering a Business Name and Domain Name
Although not strictly related to trade marks, a consideration when registering a trade mark is registering your business name and domain name. Securing your business and domain names as well as trade marks is first-in-best-dressed, so it is important to get all of these tasks completed as soon as you can. As with trade marks, it is better to find out early whether or not your desired domain name or business name is available before spending money on marketing collateral or having someone design your logos.
Once business owners have secured their desired domain name, the next step they usually take is to build their websites using their brand name and logo. Using your brand on your website without registering a trade mark leaves it open for someone else to copy, potentially giving them the opportunity to apply for the trade mark before you. This can lead to a messy dispute and can cost an entrepreneur a substantial amount of money to rectify.
3. Draft a Set of Terms and Conditions
Business owners often disregard the importance of having a clear set of terms and conditions on their website. A well-drafted set of terms and conditions act as an additional safety net following your trade mark registration. They prohibit any website user from stealing any of the content, logos, brand names, designs and photos on your website and puts them on notice.
Website terms and conditions are also paramount for brand protection with the increase in businesses publishing user or customer reviews on their website. Robust terms and conditions will give an entrepreneur the security to ensure that they can:
- moderate comments; and
- limit their liability for anything that a customer may post on the website.
4. Sign Employment Agreements
It is imperative that entrepreneurs have an employment agreement in place as soon as they start employing staff. It is not just for potential employment liabilities, but also because of how it can impact the brand.
Employees in new or small businesses have a lot more access to the businesses core information than in larger organisations. Some of this information includes:
- marketing strategy;
- supply chain details;
- trade secrets;
- future trade mark applications; and
- potential patents.
Without good employment agreements, disgruntled or savvy employees may see the opportunities in your business and take advantage of them. Employment agreements ensure that employees cannot rip off intellectual property, steal trade secrets, or as we have encountered with some clients, attempt to trade mark a brand’s trade mark before the employer. Having explicit protections in your employment agreements can also act as a deterrent for employees.
However, it is important to establish this before an entrepreneur hires their first employee. If not, there is a risk that an entrepreneur will want to implement an employment agreement down the track, and it can be difficult to convince staff that there is nothing sinister at play.
Entrepreneurs must take a multifaceted approach to brand protection. It is important to ensure that as many protections as possible are built into the business early on to avoid the risk of damage being done to the brand later.