February 25, 2016
Whether you’re just starting a home-based food business but have big dreams, or you’re already running a successful restaurant and are thinking about expanding, one legal aspect of your business that you may be overlooking is the process of trademarking important names, like your business name or the names of your products. But what kind of protection does having a trademark really offer? Here’s the scoop.
Trademarks Prevent Customer Confusion
The main purpose of trademark law, according to the folks at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), is to keep customers from getting confused by products/services/businesses with the same name—which makes a lot of sense. Imagine for a moment that you own a restaurant named “The Silver Fork of Sacramento” and have successfully registered a federal trademark for that name. That means if another restaurant moves into town (or even across the nation) and wants to call itself the “The Silver Fork”, the USPTO would turn down their trademark application due to the “Likelihood of Confusion” between the name they want to trademark and the trademark to which you already have rights.
But what if your restaurant is named “The Silver Fork of Sacramento” and it doesn’t seem like a big deal that another restaurant wants to call itself “The Silver Fork”? The reality is you should be very concerned. As technologically-focused as society is today, potential customers will likely search for your business online—finding everything from driving directions to TripAdvisor reviews in the process. If your potential customer gets directions to the wrong business—or even worse, reads bad reviews of the similarly named competing business and decides to forego a visit to your restaurant altogether—it could have a huge impact on your success and your bottom line.
Trademarks Don’t Offer Completely Exclusive Rights
It’s worth mentioning that registering a trademark gives you protection for a name within a particular industry, but not across industries. That means that companies in radically different industries can own the same trademarked name within their respective industries.
Take “Fox” for example, which is the registered trademark of both a broadcasting company and a suspension and shock manufacturer. Because the industries are so different, the USPTO didn’t anticipate a huge chance of consumer confusion and approved both registrations.
Going back to our previous example: if a jewelry business in Utah wanted to trademark the name “The Silver Fork” for its store, there’s a good chance that the USPTO would approve the application, as consumers are not likely to confuse your similarly named restaurant with a jewelry business. However, if a small winery in Nevada wanted to register “The Silver Fork” as its business name, they may be turned down because the industries are too similar and the likelihood of confusion much higher.
Protecting Your Reputation and Your Business
Trademarks help business owners protect one of your most valuable assets: your business’ reputation. By trademarking your business name and/or important product or service names, you’re helping insure that another business can’t step in and completely knock you off track.
Author Bio: Josh Gerben is the principal of the Gerben Law Firm, PLLC, a firm that focuses specifically on trademark law and services. Gerben Law works with businesses across the US and the world looking to protect their assets both online and offline. You can learn more about Josh on his blog.