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Are Trademarks Worth it for Small Businesses?

Last editedMar 20222 min read

A big question small business owners ask themselves is whether or not they should register a trademark. While it may seem like a bit of a hassle, with registration taking 13 weeks, it does provide you with vital legal protection and prevents competitors being able to steal your branding.

If you're on the fence about pursuing trademark registration, read on to discover the huge value it could bring to your small business. We’ll answer the question: What is a trademark?, and delve into the importance of trademarking with respect to business protection.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a symbol, word, or group of words legally registered by a company or brand. These symbols, words and phrases are therefore bound to a business, and cannot be legally used by any competitor or other company.

Once registered, you can use the ® to demonstrate that your brand, logo or even slogan are protected. Popular examples of trademarks include: Coca-Cola®, It's finger lickin' good! ® and Just do it®.

Registered trademarks can be sold, traded and even used as collateral on large loans. A trademark can also be licensed to other businesses, such as franchises.

Those that are new to running a small business may easily confuse trademarks and copyright. While both function as forms of intellectual property protection, they are quite different.

Trademarks, as discussed, protect symbols, words, phrases and slogans associated with a company. Copyright, meanwhile, protects original (usually creative) work of authorship, for example novels, musical lyrics, films, illustrations, poems etc. Any author of such work is eligible to file for copyright registration, inhibiting anyone from copying or plagiarising their work.

Registered trademarks vs unregistered trademarks

A registered trademark is a design, logo or slogan submitted to the Trademarks Office and subsequently entered on the Trademark Register. An unregistered trademark is a design, logo or slogan used by a company to represent its brand that has not been officially registered and does not appear on the Trademark Register.

Registration of a trademark provides full legal protection over a company’s mark or design, meaning that there can be no question over its ownership. However, in Australia, unlike the United States, an unregistered trademark does not have much legal protection at all. In the case of a dispute over plagiarism, Common Law and Australia’s automatic copyright protection may be able to offer some protection. However, generally speaking, it is difficult to enforce intellectual property rights without having a registered trademark.

Value of trademarks for small businesses

Now we have a clear idea of what a trademark is, let’s look into why it’s worth registering for a trademark as a small business.

Build your brand

Having a distinguishable trademark allows customers to be able to recognise your business and build associations with it. This is a powerful form of marketing. Think of the tick of Nike, or the golden arches of McDonald’s. These trademark symbols are immediately recognisable and indistinguishable from the brands themselves. While you can have a distinctive logo or symbol that is not registered as a trademark, it may not remain unique or distinctive for long as other brands may imitate it or copy it all together.

Having recognisable trademarks therefore helps build brand awareness, and will help your business stand out in the crowd.

Exclusive rights

Trademark registration will give you exclusive rights to your logo, slogan and any registered words and symbols. Failure to register for a trademark means any company can copy your branding. If this occurs, you have no right to dispute it since you did not register and trademark. This could effectively ruin your business and is a huge risk to take.

And, speaking of plagiarism, it’s important you check that your desired trademark is not already in existence itself. It’s entirely possible that your mark has actually already been registered to another company. To ensure you’re not infringing on an existing registered trademark, you can run a search through IP Australia's Australian Trade Mark Search.

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