There are a lot of great war stories about rebranding. Imagine marketing an appetite-suppressant diet candy called “Ayds.” It got awkward, to say the least. The idea of rebranding can mean a lot of different things – from changing the name of your business to tweaking logo color. Small businesses can generally make this kind of change more nimbly than larger, more established companies. In general, though, let’s leave the marketing questions to your marketing wizards and focus on the legal issues. Your brand, whether that means your name, your logo, advertising slogan or hashtag, is valuable intellectual property. Make sure to protect it under federal trademark and copyright law
Are You Rebranding Because You Failed to Protect Your Business?
Well, that was a painful lesson. Now, you get to teach because there is no need for anyone else to learn the same way. Entrepreneurs should do two things:
- First conduct an exhaustive trademark search to ensure that no one else owns that particular piece of intellectual real estate.
- Then, trademark everything you can afford to – your business name, variations on your name, your IP address, alternate IP addresses, the name of your product and the name of any product you may be contemplating, hashtag and perhaps a slogan. It may be worth investing in one or more of the new generic top-level domain names if it makes sense under your marketing strategy. Register that, too.
Common law trademark protection is pretty useless. Registering a trademark with the U. S. Patent and Trade Office will cost you much less than losing all the goodwill you built under your brand and re-inventing your business. Your legal goal should be to create a sterile ring around your business name and your products.
Your business goal is to aggressively enforce that zone. Remember that the most important task of many start-ups is to define and protect business identity. You can hire lawyers. Before that, though, you may want to investigate what a trademark monitoring service can do for you.
Protect the Old, While You Transition to the New
Let’s suppose that your rebranding is totally positive, prompted by the realization that you are now running with the big dogs, and you need a slogan or logo a little slicker than your own (admittedly great) amateur efforts. If you change your brand you may want to continue to police your old trademarks while it may still make a difference to you. Don't let the competition sneak up from behind while you're patting yourself on the back.
Copyright Protection for the Emerging New
On the other hand, let’s suppose that the new creative logo is still in development, being focus-grouped through many important networks of stakeholders. What’s to prevent your designer from selling the perfect combination of green and blue swirls to your fiercest competitor? Do you own it yet? If the designer is your employee, the answer is probably yes. If the designer is an independent contractor, the answer is probably no, unless you have protected that work product under the terms of your contract with the designer. As you go about rebranding your business, make sure that your standard contracts are drafted to protect intellectual property in development.