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Trademarks and Your Business

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Building a reputation in any market or industry can be challenging and frequently requires time to gain the trust of clients; most good reputations are simply earned through hard work and attention to detail.  However it doesn’t stop there.  Once you’ve gained your great reputation, maintaining it is a lifelong job and part of that is branding.  Branding is a must to make sure your clients remember you and associate your name with the great experience they had.  Registering your practice name, slogan, or logo as a trademark is one big part of branding since it protects what you trademark from impersonation by others and for your own promotion on a statewide or even national level.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark “includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.”  (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, uspto.gov/trademarks)  There are many things that can be trademarked: your practice name, slogan, logo, the way you actually write your practice name, the colors you use, almost anything.  The catch is that you cannot trademark anything found in common use.  A trademark is specifically designed to distinguish one thing from another, so words or strings of words or designs, anything like that, must be unique to you and your practice.  For example, you can’t trademark the word chiropractic or the color navy blue.  But you can trademark the use of navy blue in a specific way in your logo and you can use the word chiropractic in a unique practice name.  Unique and not common are the keys when creating what you’d like to trademark.

Why Trademark?

First, trademark registration provides protection to the practice you have worked so hard to create and build a good reputation for in your community.  All the time and energy spent making sure that you are the best you can be may be wasted if a similarly named company or even practice moves into your neighborhood and starts operating poorly.  Clients may then start confusing your practice with theirs which is great for them, but very bad for you.  Registering a trademark puts your protected information on a national register that anyone can search before choosing a name, slogan, etc.  Other business owners are generally deterred from choosing the exact same name, logo, or slogan of another company in the area, so your practice will be protected from having another business open with similar information.  It also provides a method of legal recourse for those situations when another company starts using your name anyway, in many cases intentionally.  A competitor may see the value of leeching off your good name and loyal customer base, creating serious problems for you.  Registering your trademarks allows you to demand that such a competitor or anyone else who is infringing on your trademarks stop that kind of behavior.

The second benefit of registering a trademark is to promote recognition of your practice brand.  “Branding” is vital to any company, especially for advertising and client recognition.  Registered trademarks provide a national, and even sometimes international, license for use of your practice name, slogan, and logo.  This allows you to advertise anywhere in your city and state, even anywhere in the United States, with your unique practice name.  Advertising nationally or even statewide may not be a big deal for your chiropractic practice, but many chiropractic practice owners will want to advertise in nearby cities and towns.  Advertising in a nearby area is significantly more beneficial when you have registered your practice name as a trademark.  Even within one city, there is a possibility for multiple chiropractic practices to have the same name.  You want your advertising to stand for your practice only and trademarking gets you there.

Frequently asked questions:

1)    My practice isn’t nearly as big as Coke.  Am I too little to register a trademark?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) registers yearly a variety of companies of all shapes and sizes.  There is no minimum requirement for registering your trademark, only that you have a desire to build your practice up to its full potential.

2)    How can I even be sure someone hasn’t taken my name already?

Trademarks are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), headquartered in Virginia.  The USPTO’s website provides an abundance of information about the trademark registration process including the Trademark Electronic Search System, where you have the opportunity to look up the availability of certain words or phrases you might be interested in for your practice.

3)    Isn’t registering for a trademark difficult?

Definitely not!  You can hire a lawyer to register your trademark for you or you can even do it yourself online with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website.  Before starting the registration process, whether you use a lawyer or do it yourself, you’ll want to make sure you have decided on your official practice name, logo, and anything else you want to trademark.  Once registered, you probably won’t be able to make changes and keep your protection.  You also may want to consider trademarking variations of your name, for example Your Chiropractic Place and yourchiropracticplace.com, or trademarking your practice name in regular font and in its stylized form (with color and a special font).

Whatever part of life your chiropractic practice is in, it’s never too late to start branding.  Trademarking your practice name, slogan, or logo is the first step!  Beyond the branding of your company, registering trademarks allows you to protect your practice’s reputation from imitators.  With a trademark, you are also able to advertise anywhere in the United States free from potentially identical competitors.  The protection your practice receives from a trademark is an important part of building up your practice, don’t delay in getting started!

by Elizabeth A. Evans, J.D.

MyCorporation is an online filing services company that specializes in incorporations and LLCs. Find more information online at mycorporation.com/blog and on Twitter @mycorporation.

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