If there is one feature that distinguishes successful, sustainable businesses from those that fail within a few years, or just barely manage to keep grinding along above the waterline, it is strong brand reputation.
This may be more true in some industries than others, but if your business’s identity is not fixed in the minds of your customers, there is little reason for them not to choose a competitor’s product. On the other hand, if they associate your name, logo and presentation with a good experience and consistent value, they will rarely stray. For products for which image forms a large part of the perceived value – perfume, clothing, foodstuffs – a strong brand increases the acceptable price several times over.
It’s truly sad to hear about companies, large and small, who’ve introduced a useful, innovative offering to the market, only to lose out on the potential profits when their competition emulates them. Successful branding is one way to avoid this from happening, and registering your trademark is a good first step in this direction.
What Is a Trademark?
Simply put, a trademark can be any kind of symbol that customers associate with your company and its products: a name, a logo, or a catchphrase. As somewhat outlandish examples, the sound of a Harley Davidson motorcycle’s engine and the word “superhero” are both considered trademarks, as they are intrinsically associated with a certain company’s brand.
In Singapore and most Commonwealth countries, common law provides some legal protection even to trademarks that aren’t formally registered. However, to best protect yourself from losing market share to questionable tactics, formally registering your trademark at the national intellectual property office is recommended. Once registered, it belongs to you forever, subject to renewal every ten years. A brand sign annotated with ® is registered and may not be copied for commercial gain, while one marked “TM” may or may not be legally registered.
As a form of intellectual property, just like copyrights and patents, trademarks can be licensed to other companies, e.g. retailers selling your product or subcontractors providing services on your behalf. No-one can legally use your mark, or a deceptively similar one, to take advantage of your customers’ goodwill towards your brand.
Benefits of Having a Trademark
A major part of the market valuation of companies such as Coca Cola, IBM and Prada is that of their brand. The same can be true of smaller, regional companies too: if you ever wish to expand either geographically or in terms of product lines, investors will want to know that your company’s reputation and product’s distinctiveness are well protected.
Having your trademark accepted by the national intellectual property office also means that it has been examined and determined to be different from existing trademarks, so you won’t suddenly be forced to change it at some point in the future. In addition, national registration can be used as a basis for registering your brand abroad.
Intellectual property management can mitigate risks that smaller businesses might not yet be aware of; corporations have entire departments devoted to it. Trademarking essential elements of your brand is neither difficult nor expensive, and is something every business which plans to grow should do.