5 Steps to Protect Your Brand Trademark or Risk Losing It

5 Steps to Protect Your Brand Trademark or Risk Losing It

You opened your business and trademarked your brand name, logo, and so on. Fantastic! You’ve taken the first step to ensure only you can profit from your brand. But registering your trademark is just the first step to protecting your brand.

A trademark gives you the right to exclude others from using similar marks in the marketplace that might confuse consumers. The purpose is to make sure consumers know where the goods and services with specific brand names on them are coming from.

For example, if you buy shoes with the Nike logo on them, you probably have very specific expectations for those shoes based on your perception of and previous experience with the Nike brand. It makes sense that Nike would want to protect that brand reputation by excluding anyone else from using the Nike brand name, logo, and so on to market their own products.

You should be doing the same thing to protect your small business brand.

But that’s where most people drop the ball. They think, “I got my trademark registration, so I’m done!” Nope. Once you register the trademark, you have to protect it or you could lose it.

Here are five steps you must follow on an ongoing basis to protect your brand trademark and ensure you don’t lose it:

1. Monitor New Trademark Applications

It’s your responsibility to monitor trademark registrations that might conflict with your registered mark. An intellectual property attorney can help you do this using trademark monitoring services like Corsearch and Thomson CompuMark.

If you don’t monitor for potentially infringing trademark applications and fail to oppose a conflicting mark’s publication, then it becomes much more difficult and much more expensive for you to stop the other mark from hitting the marketplace.

This is a lesson that small business owner Jenny Present (owner of the Proud Mama jewelry collection) learned the hard way when Kris Jenner trademarked #PROUDMAMA.

2. Monitor Unregistered Infringements

In addition to monitoring new trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, you also have to monitor unregistered trademark conflicts.

For example, someone might use your mark (or a confusingly similar mark) in their business name, product name, website URL, or social media URL. Even if they didn’t file a trademark application for the mark, it would be considered a potential infringement and it’s your responsibility to respond to it. If you don’t take action to protect your mark, you risk losing it.

3. Create Brand Guidelines

Protecting your brand trademark requires creating brand identity guidelines that explain exactly how the tangible elements of your brand (such as your brand name and logo) should be used. It’s imperative that you educate your employees, business partners, and all of the businesses and vendors in your supply chain about how they can use your trademarks and other brand elements, so they don’t compromise your rights.

Furthermore, you should publish your brand identity guidelines on your website along with the necessary legal language about how your intellectual property can be used just like global brands do (check out how Apple does it). For a great example of simple brand guidelines, check out Skype’s Brand Book, and for an extremely detailed example of brand guidelines, check out IEEE’s Visual Brand Identity Guidelines.

4. Develop a Domain Name Strategy

It is your responsibility to monitor domain name registrations that might conflict with your registered mark. It’s also wise to secure domain names using variations of your brand name with all of the most common extensions.

In other words, you need a domain name strategy because failure to make an effort to protect your trademark against infringing domain names might end up costing you big bucks later when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office determines your lack of effort is a forfeiture of your rights. Again, you could lose your trademark if you don’t protect it.

5. Maintain Your Trademark Registration

In addition to monitoring and managing your mark on an ongoing basis to retain your rights, you also need to file maintenance documents. If you don’t file the right documents at the right times, your trademark will be cancelled.

Maintenance documents are required to be filed between the fifth and sixth year after the mark is registered and between the ninth and tenth year after the mark is registered. Take a look at the Trademark Timeline infographic for more details.

Take the Right Steps to Protect Your Brand and Keep Your Trademark

You worked hard to build your brand, and a trademark ensures you’re the only one who can profit from all of that work. Don’t give up your rights by failing to monitor and maintain your trademark!

Every brand has the potential to become extremely valuable, including yours. Trademark it and profit from it—it’s your right!

Trademark Stamp Photo via Shutterstock


Kelley Keller Kelley Keller is CEO of Kelley Keller Law and a 20-year veteran of the intellectual property law field with experience helping businesses of all sizes (including many household brands) identify, manage, and protect their trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets.

9 Reactions
  1. I think not all of us have the time or people to do this. Sure, you can do it from time to time but if you’re operating a small business, it is hard to track your brand. I think that it can only be done once you grow bigger.

    • Aira, Every business needs to monitor their brand if they want to protect it. Whether you’ve formally registered your brand as a trademark (which you should do as soon as possible) or not (and if you actually have common law rights to it – you might not, which is why a comprehensive trademark search and registration are so critical), it’s your responsibility as the owner of the mark to police it. If you don’t make an effort to stop other people from infringing on your mark, you could lose it. The cost to rebrand is far higher than registering your mark and monitoring/protecting it.

      The most recent episode of the Circle Legal Business Fix-It Show explains why this is so important in more detail. You can listen or read the transcript here: http://www.circlelegal.com/trademark-basics-business-owners/

  2. It may be hard but you must take the necessary steps to make sure that your brand is protected lest you want to lose all the promotions you did for it.

  3. Thanks for the tips. Right. It may be difficult but it must be done.

    • Ivan, Monitoring and enforcing your mark doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive if you get the right help and do it correctly, but you’re right, it must be done. This risk of not doing it is just too big!

  4. Here’s the question, while the business beginner registed his/her own brand, usually he/she would get opposition from others called”similar” brand name or logo, such as contains same words or similar color, even the products in different market field, the fact is that new trademark always lose their trademark due to those reason: “similar” and “confuse costumers”. And often, they do not get support to keep their own brand name from USPTO even there’s not such similar and confusions.

  5. Thank you, Lava, for your comment. It’s so important to understand whether or not a trademark is available to use and register before you enter the marketplace. There are a lot of factors that determine whether marks are too similar to coexist in the marketplace, so getting legal help can really be helpful!

  6. You made a good point that I should also be vigilant about the unregistered infringement of trademarks. What I noticed throughout the years is that art theft is quite rampant on the internet nowadays. Given that I will be getting the logo for my online shop commissioned from an online artist, I think I should be wary if the design gets imitated somehow.