How to Protect Your Agency’s Brand Assets & Intellectual Property
How can you protect yourself and your clients from brand copycats? I recently had some major issues with a copycat and had to take action FAST in order to protect my business and brand. In this episode, learn what you can do to proactively defend your agency and clients’ intellectual property.
In this episode, we’ll cover:
- What is and what isn’t intellectual property?
- Why register your agency’s brand assets?
- Tools and tips to keep your assets protected.
Today’s guest is Cheryl Hodgson, founder of Hodgson Legal and BrandAide.com. She’s an attorney, advisor, author and expert on everything related to brand protection. She specializes in intellectual property and brand assets. And, she shares advice protecting your and your clients’ brand assets. Cheryl touches on everything from copyrights and trademarks to goods/service names and domain names.
What Is and What Isn’t Intellectual Property?
Cheryl says the term “Intellectual Property” is often misunderstood. Legally, this term only applies to assets in five specific areas:
- Brand Names: This is one of the most important assets a business owns. It’s a unique identifier with a long life and requires protection. Cheryl says most businesses don’t put enough time into developing names – they settle on it with little thought. When developing names, Cheryl advises seeing what’s already out there to avoid conflicts.
- Copyright: Any artistic expression of an idea is copyright protectable and includes things such as programs and content. Without the registering you have rights but no remedy.
- Patents: Things like inventions and software are patentable. Patents are exclusive rights granted for a product or a process that provides a new way of doing something or offers a new technical solution to a problem.
- Confidential Information: Any private or classified business information can be intellectual property – things like lists, non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality agreements, etc. that should not be shared without your permission.
- Domain Names: In most cases, a web address is more important than a physical address. Domain names are business assets and need protection.
Why Register Your Agency’s Brand Assets?
The biggest reason to register is because it adds value to your agency. No matter whether you’re considering selling in the near future or the long distant future, owning your intellectual property increases your agency’s value. That’s what buyers care about most – sales, revenue and assets.
Another great reason to register is to protect your turf. Cheryl shared a story about a former client who failed to register his brand and lost out big time! He started AmazonNetworks.com back in the early 90’s on the cusp of the internet boom. A short time later, a business named Amazon Book Sellers was founded. Initially there was no conflict but as Amazon Book Sellers grew they decided to register their brand. As you can imagine, AmazonNetworks.com was eventually sued and forced out of business.Why register your brand and services? Without a trademark, your brand identity becomes diluted.Click To Tweet
Tools and Tips to Protect Your Agency
Your brand assets and intellectual property are your unique identifiers. When it becomes popular the value becomes diluted and it no longer distinguishes your goods or services from others. Registering and monitoring use of your brand names protects your brand’s identity. When naming goods or services, do your due diligence to see what else is already out there:
- Search the United States Patent and Trademark Office database and find what is already registered.
- Monitor Google Alerts with brand/product names or terms specific to your brand.
If you discover a copycat (like I did) of your registered assets, there’s a few different courses of action you can consider:
- Simple, careless plagiarism can start with a direct phone call or email to the offender.
- Blatantly egregious or fraudulent activity should be handled with a letter from an attorney.
Can You Force Someone to Release a Domain Name?
This is always a tricky topic. Cheryl says a domain name on it’s own is just like your street address… If someone is parked on it with no commercial use there’s nothing you can do about it. However if someone is using a name you own for commercial use, you do have rights and protection. Likewise if you have a successful product or service, competitors or related businesses will try to duplicate what you’re doing by using a similar domain name with a different extension (.net, .org, etc.)
A Domain Dispute Resolution is a cost effective way to recapture your rights and avoid expensive court proceedings. Cheryl suggests speaking to a law professional or checking out the National Arbitration Forum or WIPO.
#1 Biggest Branding Mistake Agencies Are Making
There’s one major mistake Cheryl sees over and over – a lot of marketing agencies and brands do not use trademarks correctly in their marketing materials. In fact, Cheryl says it’s so common that she has created a PDF guide to help you. You can grab Cheryl’s Marketing Professionals Guide to Brand Use, her Brand Protection Assessment and a FREE chapter of her book by clicking here.
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