Tag Archives: brand

Copy Safely

Why It’s Vital To Learn How To Copy Safely in the 21st Century

Copy SafelyEasyJet was embarrassed recently when it came to light that a video by Mr Bellow its chief operating officer copied significantly from a speech made by Taoiseach’s Leo Varadkar to mark St Patrick’s day.  The YouTube video comparing the footage of both men demonstrates just how blatant the copying was.

This brought to mind a common question I’m asked when people are creating content or writing books. How much can you borrow from another work? The EasyJet video is a prime example of what not to do if you want to avoid copyright infringement.

A basic understanding of copyright law is essential to navigating life in the 21st century. It shocks me that a senior level executive is going around without this most basic grasp of the law. I doubt millennials and later generations will get by during their lifetime without such essential skills because it’s part and parcel of digital business life today.

The Coronavirus epidemic will forever change the world. Once organisations learn to manage meetings and events virtually, it’s unlikely we will return to a world of physical meetings at the drop of a hat. It’s going to profoundly change business. In a digital world, you need a grasp of IP laws because they are the legal rules that apply to intangibles.

Entrepreneurial Ventures

More and more people are setting up service-based businesses to run their own show. Typically, people want to escape the corporate worlds in which they acquired their skills. They often see an opportunity to develop a niche and to do something differently to improve the customer experience. They want location independence, to have a decent income to feed their family, and most importantly, they want the freedom to manage their work around their lives.  Many of them are driven by a purpose and need to impact the world in their industry.

The Coronavirus epidemic catapults us into a world where all these objectives are even more within reach, as digital existence becomes the norm.

However, using your knowledge and skills in any entrepreneurial venture invariably involves consultancy, and hence the trap of a time for money existence.

Soon after starting up, it’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to experience overwhelm. They find themselves working all hours because getting the work in requires a significant investment in time and money. Then there is the time involved to deliver your services.

So, in practice, sustaining a self-employed lifestyle often results in a drop in one’s income, and a depletion of your resources of time, and money. In practice there is more stress too.

The service-based business model carries these challenges primarily because there is so much competition in the world. There are too many providers offering almost any service. It can be difficult therefore to escape commoditisation.

How do you survive and thrive in this environment?

I’ve learnt a lot about what it takes to succeed in business in the 15 years or so that I have run my own. Many aspects of IP law, such as trade mark registration are completely commoditised with a plethora of providers, many of whom don’t have the necessary skills, but the public doesn’t realise this.

So, I can add a lot of value for entrepreneurs looking to rethink their businesses in the face of this Coronavirus.

Building a Brand

I’ve learnt that to survive in the globalised, overcrowded market today involves building both your personal and your business brand, and it all takes time. You need to be in it for the long term.

Organisations like Dent have come up with solutions to support entrepreneurs in this environment. They offer programs such as Key Person of Influence to teach their clients how to become more influential in their own industries, and how to use their core knowledge and skills more effectively. Entrepreneurs are advised to write a book, to create product type offerings that are outcome focused rather than based on time for money services.

It’s a program that I have personally attended so I know how well it equips you on many fronts. However, what it does not do is to provide you with the necessary depth of information that you need to navigate intellectual property and brand creation.  This is where my BrandTuned offering comes in to fill the gap for so many existing businesses, as well as for startups.

Branding

Branding is about so much more than visual designs. Before you get to the visual identity phase it’s essential in the 21st century that we now live in, to start any venture with intellectual property because IP impacts how you design your business. If you take decisions that are well-informed by IP your business will be far better adapted for the more digital world we’re now entering.

For example, while it may make sense to publish full details of your methodology depending on what you do, it could sometimes be foolhardy to put your best insights into a book for your competitors to freely use and learn from.

There is no copyright in ideas. If Mr Bellow of EasyJet had had this essential understanding of copyright, he could have freely copied every idea from Taoiseach’s Leo Varadkar’s talk, without exposing himself to copyright infringement accusations. In the 21st century, you need to know how to copy safely from the works that inspire you.

Knowing what to give away when publishing content and what to keep to yourself involves a grasp of intellectual property principles. For example, understanding confidentiality and trade secrecy laws is how I have developed a heightened sensitivity to the commercial value of information. IP law will, therefore, provide the necessary guidance you need on this aspect of your knowledge and skills.

And copyright laws come up at every juncture for a business as does naming. Names are a highly complex subject, except most entrepreneurs don’t realise this and therefore make a number of fundamental mistakes.

Brand Names and Trade Marks

“Productising” your skills and knowledge necessarily involves a skilled use of names. Names are how you give your products their own personality. Names are how you stand out and move buyers to purchase your outcomes-based solutions. Without a clear understanding of how trade mark laws impact your choice of names, it’s very easy to go seriously astray when naming your business or products.

One common error people tend to make, is to choose very banal names which deliver little value, or competitive advantage.

Overly descriptive names are weak because they don’t challenge, excite, or mentally stimulate us. They require little imagination. And they reveal nothing about the personality of your brand (other than exposing your lack of creativity). When you draw from a limited pool of descriptive words, you sound like everyone else, making your name blend in with that of your competitors.

It’s possible to register almost any name with the right type of logo, but what is the value in that? You can’t stop others using the same name if the name can’t be registered on its own as a word mark.

So when you don’t take on board the greatest possibility the law gives you to distinguish your offerings from others and to stand out, then it’s no wonder that despite every effort to make sales and succeed people come unstuck due to poor IP design at the start of their projects. The sort of problems that arise from lack of proper attention to IP are very varied and can include being copied in ways people can do little about.

Missing an Opportunity

Designing a business incorrectly also comes about because people don’t give their brands the depth of thinking that’s necessary to their long-term success. They jump in too quickly to have the visual identity created, so that the thinking about their values and purpose, for example, that’s involved in the branding process, doesn’t run as deep as it needs to.

It’s to fill this gap that I decided to write my book, BrandTuned, How to Perfect, Protect, and Promote your Brand. The book will be out in 2021.

In the meantime, I am providing support to help you get clarity around your IP. This will consist entirely of free sessions I will be running via the BrandTuned Facebook group although for those that want to go deeper with their IP, my digital Legally Branded 2.0 course is available to purchase.

BrandTuned Facebook group

We will be running webinars and posting links to some of these resources in the BrandTuned Facebook group, along with other essential guidance to support you to think through your brand during this difficult period we are all living through.

I’m intending to cover how to think through your personal purpose as well as your business purpose, your values, and what you want to stand for. Who is your product for? What is your brand promise? What names are you choosing? We will cover these and more in some question and answer sessions.

I recommend giving yourself 6-8 months to create your brand strategy so you can come out the other end much better placed to get the traction your brand needs as you promote your business more extensively.

In the meantime, whatever you do, don’t stop creating content. Carry on posting your unique perspective on social media because nothing will give you greater clarity than creating regular content.

azrights news

Exciting News at Azrights

azrights newsFor some time I’ve been looking forward to the regulatory changes in the solicitors market that were finally introduced in November 2019. The new regulations support solicitors to provide services through new entities, to work in new ways, and use new technologies. They do away with the overhead costs that are unnecessary for 95% of the work we do at Azrights.

These costs of regulation are high because “reserved activities”, which in our case means court proceedings, may only be undertaken by organisations that are subject to a number of additional controls. Less than 5% of our work constituted reserved activities so it was an easy decision to change the business in light of these new rules. We will no longer offer litigation.

We have been up against non-regulated providers who were freely offering intellectual property services outside solicitors’ law firms without the steep overheads and prohibitive and unnecessarily overburdened costs of regulation that we were subject to.

Had we wanted to compete with them we could have traded through an unregulated entity, but we would have had to give up our practising certificates and act as “non practising solicitors”. We didn’t want to do that.

Impact on Azrights Solicitors

Now, thanks to the new regulations we can minimise our costs and reduce the charges for clients by trading through our separate business, Azrights International Ltd, while still practising as solicitors. We are implementing these changes with effect from 1 April 2020. On 31 March Azrights Solicitors will close.

While Azrights International Ltd will not be a regulated law firm, the only real change forour practice as solicitors is that we will no longer offer litigation services – namely court proceedings.

We have always preferred to focus on helping clients stay out of court and to fare better should they find themselves in court, than to deal with disputes once the client has fallen off a cliff.

It’s exciting therefore to be able to offer wider services, such as support with branding and brand development, business growth, and in-house legal services too.  Our hourly rate will drop significantly to make us much more affordable to clients.

Confused?

If you’re confused by the legal service provider landscape here is a comprehensive survey of the legal industry in this article, which also covers the new permitted providers such as freelance solicitors and solicitors operating through non regulated entities.

We have been ready to make this change for years as regulatory changes were gradually transforming the legal services landscape. The new rules were postponed on several occasions while the details were being sorted, and now they have finally passed into law we are thrilled.

Working through Azrights International Ltd will enable us to expand our non-regulated activities to introduce the innovations that the market needs.

This has always been one of our top values, to innovate in line with market needs. We believe we can add significant value in the intellectual property and branding space.

Separation Between Branding and Intellectual Property

The problems that we see stem from the fact that IP is not well understood, and therefore is treated as separate to branding, even when the activities being engaged are part and parcel of the legal dimension, such as choosing names.

When you are not intimately aware of how IP impacts names, logos, taglines and other brand elements, it can be all too easy to believe that it is appropriate to separate branding activities from IP. Consequently, branding agencies tend to leave IP to their clients to deal with, as IP is perceived to be all about law, and hence not within their remit.

Clients who do not have the benefit of an in-house legal department or expertise in IP, don’t understand IP any better than their “branding” advisers. So, when it’s presented to them as an issue to address with their own legal team during a branding exercise, even when their agency is choosing a new name for them, it’s all too easy for them to assume it is yet another expense that they can postpone.

However, IP is property just like physical property. A name is the equivalent of land. Just as you wouldn’t postpone buying that plot before putting buildings on it, so you should not develop a brand around a name you do not own. That is to gamble with your future business success. IP cannot be postponed till later. That is how serious mistakes and unnecessary costs arise.

IP is an intrinsic aspect of branding and should be one of the first points to address before undergoing any visual identity work.

Therefore, we are introducing BrandTuned to support businesses and agencies.

BrandTuned is a pre-branding, or pre-rebranding solution giving founders and businesses the opportunity to think through their brand and address their IP issues. They can do some serious thinking about their brand so as to be better prepared when they go to an agency or creative for a visual identity..

Using BrandTuned will help every founder and marketing director to emerge with IP that’s properly protected.

The branding actions you take after BrandTuned are likely to lead to a more successful outcome thanks to having already protected your brand, and to the depth of thinking you will have given to your business vision and brand before commissioning a visual identity.

New names really should not be chosen without the involvement of a trade mark expert who also understands the marketing and business side of branding.

That’s why BrandTuned gives founders an opportunity to choose a name, and have it searched and protected.

Business Growth and In-House Legal Services

Invariably growing a business is intrinsically about building the brand. What is less well appreciated is that legal agreements and advice often give the business commercial input and support which will help the business to take the right actions and grow.

We are excited to be introducing an in-house legal service for small businesses and see ways to add real value to clients. We can also support clients to connect with each other, and our integrated brand and marketing solution, BrandTuned will enable clients to fine tune and manage their brand.

Perfecting, protecting and promoting a brand is about so much more than just registering a trade mark or getting a logo.

What’s Next?

We will soon be releasing information about how to access BrandTuned so keep an eye out for news on this by following me on Linkedin

Third Costly Mistake

The Third Costly Mistake People Make When Branding or Rebranding

Third Costly MistakeThe third costly mistake people make is Not having a clear brand strategy before getting a visual brand identity

Wally Olins, a thought leader in brands and branding says:

‘A brand is simply an organisation, or a product, or a service with a personality … Branding can encapsulate both big and important and apparently superficial and trivial issues simultaneously … Branding is not only a design and marketing tool, but it should also influence everybody in your company; it’s a coordinating resource because it makes the corporation’s activities coherent and above all, it makes the strategy of the organisation visible and palpable for all audiences to see’.

To think through your brand strategy involves deciding how to create a good business that’s reliable and known for delivering on a specific promise. How will your business idea work? Who will buy from you? What promises will you be known for?

Every brand has its own distinct ‘promise’. It’s due to this promise that we know to expect something completely different if we buy a Rolex watch rather than a Swatch.

Working out your brand strategy is essential if you want to get your business off to a successful start. Thinking through how you want your business to be known isn’t easy, but this is important work. You need to fine tune your brand strategy before you can be ready to brief designers to give your concept a visual identity.

Consider what quality or outcome you want to deliver consistently and reliably. How will customers know what to expect if they use your product or service so that there’s little risk of an unpleasant surprise? Buying a product or service from a business whose brand is not yet known is risky because it represents something untried and untested.

As my first efforts with branding were somewhat unsuccessful, I decided to rebrand a few years ago. This time I knew better than to start off the process by visiting a designer. Instead, I did a lot of introspective thinking, and worked with other professionals to fine tune my brand strategy.

I had to decide what unique angle I was bringing to the market, and how to communicate that message in a way that evoked a response in the minds of customers.

What work was my law firm focusing on? Apart from the fact that we specialised in brand and trademarks, I realised we were very technology and online business focused in everything we did.

Having done my homework and soul searching first, and really considered the business’ mission, values, purpose, and more, I turned to a designer for the visual identity work.

As I had fine-tuned my brand strategy, the rebranding exercise was a great success. We decided to use the tagline, Lawyers for the Digital World. This time the logo was designed to look more IBM like rather than an old fashioned “creative” looking script.

Some of our essential values are encapsulated in our ethos Easy Legal Not Legalese. Another important value is to be forward-thinking and to provide the solutions the market needs. Hence why we’ve developed BrandTuned, a “done with you” style service that combines branding with IP. It ends with designs. We can either do the designs for you using our own creatives, or we give you a design brief that makes it easy for your own chosen designer to translate your brand strategy into visual designs.

brand strategy

Brand Strategy Is Essential For Success In Business 

I recently wrote an extensive piece Brand Strategy Why Every Business Needs One on my personal blog.

Brand strategy is one of the most important issues to deal with if you want to create a business that grows in brand value and delivers more leads and opportunities.

We’re developing a methodology to support our clients to create their brand strategy and it’s important to take a fresh look at what you think “brand” means when considering this piece and the videos here.

Brand, branding, intellectual property, trade mark, business design – these are all very much misunderstood as terms, or people don’t even know what they mean. Yet these are really important issues for a business to take on board whether it’s starting up, scaling or looking to exit.

In the blog post and first video, I explain what is involved in working out your brand strategy.

Don’t assume bigger businesses all have brand strategies because many of them don’t have one – particularly tech companies as they focus all their attention on the product.

Uber is an example of what happens when you don’t have a brand strategy.  While the business is a success and has even reached unicorn status, its lack of attention to brand has caused numerous problems. In the second video, I go into Uber’s case in more depth.

If you want support to craft your brand strategy so as to build brand value, and attract more leads and opportunities then do get in touch. We can help you whether you’re a start up, scale up or a business looking to plan your exit.

Internet Rules – Changes The Rules of Branding

The internet has changed the rules for many industries. In my books Legally Branded and Intellectual Property Revolution, I explained how the internet impacts the intellectual property industry.

Here is how I see it changing the branding industry, at least as regards the branding of service-based businesses.

 

Branding Industry Approach

The branding industry has traditionally left IP to be dealt with by lawyers later once the brand has already been created.

The approach is to design the brand, and then go to lawyers to protect the new brand.  Sometimes the designer even suggests names and then checks them out on Google and on company and domain sites.

The trouble with this approach is that you need to check the name properly whether you are choosing the name for the client or the client has found its own name. Many problems have arisen for businesses that failed to do this fundamental checking. By leaving it to the client to seek out legal advice, it’s potentially setting the client up for difficulties because in many cases people don’t bother to seek protection at all or if they look for help they get it from a business lawyer rather than from a trade mark expert. So the business misses out on important advice.

This approach was viable in a pre-internet world where there were fewer brands and less visibility if you were using a name that belonged to someone else.

Intangible Assets

In an internet environment where virtually all assets of a business are intangibles, it becomes foolhardy to leave IP like trade marks till later. IP plays such a central role in business that it must be the starting point when planning any project or venture.

Some of the intangible assets that businesses own, or which benefit them nowadays are things like data, processes, relationships, networks, culture etc. These may have always existed in the past but now that most assets are intangible, they have taken on greater significance.

Many of these assets don’t neatly fall within the traditional definition of intellectual property – that is, patents, designs, trade marks, copyright, and confidential information.

They are intellectual capital though and you need to understand IP even more deeply to know how best to protect and deploy this newer form of asset within your business.

I use IP here in its widest sense, to refer to all the knowledge and skills a business might use in order to succeed.

 

IP Risks and Opportunities

IP risks and opportunities impact the way you create a brand strategy and design the structure of a business. For this reason, where in the past I would describe myself as an intellectual property lawyer, now I see myself as an Intellectual Property lawyer with a difference. That’s because I integrate IP, brand, and marketing to support startups, scale ups, and those exiting their businesses to design a business that builds in value and attracts more leads and opportunities.

I’ve spent years studying brands and marketing closely. I’ve read hundreds of books, attended dozens of courses, been through a couple of branding exercises and am so interested in the topic that I am a constant student in this area of business.

 

Future trends

I foresee that in future we will see more and more intellectual property lawyers integrating IP, brand, and marketing, to ensure their clients businesses are built for success.

In larger businesses, different departments are currently involved in issues relating to the brand– IT, marketing, PR, design, and legal.  In the future, they will be more multidisciplinary in approach. Every team will involve a trade mark lawyer who “gets” branding and therefore can advise on brand from a legal dimension as well as from a business perspective.

The legal services industry is undergoing fundamental challenges and transformations and will continue to do so in the coming years. Many lawyers will realise that they are in a wider business than their current narrow focus on pure law.

Trade mark lawyers need to focus more on the brand and become the business advisers of choice for organizations that are formulating their brand strategy. They could give so much more value than simply being asked to search names for availability.  But for them to deliver more value involves a sea change in training and education.

One significant advantage these professionals currently have is their depth of understanding of the legal aspects of the brand. As such they are better placed than people from other disciplines such as design or marketing to advise on brand. Many designers and marketers come to branding with no understanding of IP law at all.

While they are suitable for creating the visual identity, or marketing plan, they have a huge learning curve to advise on the IP aspects of branding, which are of central relevance when you’re designing a business.

The methodology I’ve developed to support my clients ensures they choose names that are in line with their positioning and by working with us they have the added benefit of very cost effective IP protection that’s thrown in as part of the work. It requires very little effort to support them on the copyright or to draft an effective trade mark application when you’re working closely with them and understand their business intimately.

Our process also focuses on designing the business correctly to ensure it attracts leads and opportunities as a starting point for working out its positioning and name.

The creation of a visual identity is postponed till much later.

In my new book, I’ll be explaining why I think it’s essential in the new world we live in to separate brand strategy and business identity, from visual identity creation. The two disciplines really should be kept separate.

The word brand and branding is much misused and misunderstood.

The shift that has happened in society due to the internet is being felt in every area of life, and it’s important that businesses understand why their first port of call when looking to brand their business should not be a designer.

Last week I explained in my blog Why is a good name important to a company just how important names are to a company. Do read it to understand this important topic which may seem quite minor but actually plays a central part in the success of a business.

brand management

Brand Management – What It Means For Your Business

brand managementIf you prefer to listen/watch a video instead of reading then click here to go to my Youtube channel.

Branding is essentially about clarifying who you are, what do you do and what differentiates you. It’s about a lot more than a logo and visual identity.

As mentioned in my post on Branding Strategy last week a brand is a promise that tells customers what they can expect from you.  Having a great product or service is crucial and it goes without saying that you need to give great customer service too.

 

Why Brand?

A brand is necessary but not sufficient.  Marketing works better if you have a strong brand.  The brand transforms the customer’s product experience. It’s the brand that lets the world know what to expect.

Your brand is also a key component to engage and motivate employees. The brand provides a buffer and a cushion. It’s the most valuable intangible asset your business creates as it grows and succeeds.

Branding is an art and a science. Marketing and branding strategy depend on how creatively and originally strategies are conceived and crafted. The hope is to improve the odds for success. It helps to have a consumer mindset and to be able to interpret marketing trends.

 

Why Management of Brands Is Necessary

When you look at brands and how some have fared – such as Yahoo, Myspace or Kodak – based on what is done to them, it’s obvious that management of the brand is going to play a big part in its continuing success.

If we come back in 10 years’ time will the successful brands of today – Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix – still be successful? It will depend on how they’re managed and what is done to them.

Brands that innovate and stay relevant don’t die or fade with the passage of time.  They never stand still and are always striving to move forward in the right direction. The brand needs to be managed properly to create meaning and differentiation.

Big businesses have brand managers whose function is essentially to maintain brand equity. That’s how they can reap the benefits of strong branding.

Brand management is built on a marketing foundation and focuses directly on the brand and how that brand can remain favourable to customers. Like most areas of life brand management has been altered by the internet and social media, if for no other reason than the fact that consumers can now talk back at brands. They’re no longer subjects that are at the receiving end of marketing messages crafted by the company. Their response to those messages itself alters the communication in ways that the brand had not intended.

 

The Brand Manager’s Role

A brand manager within a large organisation has responsibility for ensuring sales of a brand. The brand manager has the discretion to do whatever is necessary to secure sales, whether that involves changes to the product itself, its price, the places where the product is sold, how it is promoted, packaged and generally the entire brand proposition.

The brand manager will co-ordinate with various teams across the organisation to implement their strategy and thus promote more sales.  Whether the task involves packaging changes, creative designs, marketing campaigns, IT to enhance the website, legal for regulatory or intellectual property issues such as brand name clearances, the brand manager will draw in the necessary skills to achieve their goals. Their role impacts the bottom line in a measurable and visible way.

The Brand Manager Understands the Brand Landscape

The brand manager makes it their job to understand the role of each department. If, for example, the brand manager decides to alter aspects of the brand, such as its name or visual identity to achieve the desired outcome of increased sales, they are not going to take risks such as of the product infringing on existing trade mark rights. It would be an embarrassing and costly mistake to allow the brand to suffer by ignoring basics of trade mark law.

That’s how the brand is cared for and nurtured to success in large organisations.

When it comes to the small business end of the market, the business owner is the one who needs to fill the role of the brand manager and herein lies the problem. The business owner will invariably lack the understanding of branding and the part that various disciplines need to play to secure success for the brand.

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what is brand

What is a Brand? Essential Reading For Every Business

If you prefer to listen/watch a video instead of reading then click here to go to my Youtube channel.

Brand is one of those terms that is bandied around quite a lot so that there is a lot of confusion among business owners about what really matters to their bottom line.

In my next post I will explain why brand management is so critical to business success, but first, let’s start by defining what we mean by “brand”.

For one thing, you don’t need to be big or a household name to be a “brand”.  We all have a name, a way of dressing, talking, and walking and subjects we are known for or topics we tend to talk about.

We have beliefs and opinions, and a certain personality. In short, we’re all known for something.  People have a certain response to us or think of us in a particular way.  That’s our brand.

 

Personal vs Business Brand

In the same way that anyone alive has an identity so that the world can tell one person apart from another, so your business also has an identity – a brand – that is quite separate from your own personal brand.

A company is a different person in the eyes of the law from its founder.  Even if you haven’t incorporated your business and are a sole trader doing business under a trading name (or even under your own name), your business identity will be separate, albeit it may be an extension of you.

 

Designing Your Brand

How you design your business is critical to your long-term success.

Unfortunately, there is so much confusion in the market about “brand” that people don’t easily recognise what to do. One misconception many people have is that branding is all about getting designs done for their business – creating their brand identity.

While visual design is an extremely important component of a brand, it is just one of them. Before you go to anyone to help you “brand” your business or yourself, you should first thoroughly think through your business model, and how you are going to create a good business and brand that’s reliable and known for delivering on a specific promise.

The visual identity is the final aspect of the brand to put in place. Although designers and marketers will be able to help you to fine tune your thinking during the branding process, there is a lot of work that you need to have done before you put yourself in the hands of a third party to be branded. You will get much more long term benefits from the exercise if you don’t jump in too quickly to get your visual identity work carried out.

Prioritise working on your business to think through what the market opportunity might be in your space and get some temporary designs in place for your brand in the meantime.

 

Differentiation is key

Then think about how to differentiate yourself.

Is there a segment of the market that is underserved that you could initially serve? That doesn’t mean you’re going to limit your business to only serving that market sector. You won’t be stuck with just that one niche. It’s quite common to have several niches.

For example, Slaten Law in its early days some 20 years ago stumbled on the pest control industry when it helped a few clients from that industry.  This was a finite universe, where everyone went to the same conventions and read the same publication, Pest Control Today.  So, the firm’s website was revised to feature crawling termites ….and bugs…” The firm went all in on serving that industry.

The firm’s website today has moved on considerably. During its journey to its current situation, it identified further markets, such as Dram Shops, Automotive, Nursing Homes, and therefore no longer used a Pest Control focused website. But the firm’s experience illustrates how powerful it is to focus on one narrow niche at a time.

Once you decide on your initial niche, give yourself time to test the market to assess how it responds to your offerings

Next, find out about Branding Strategy.

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5 Crucial Points About Trademarks Everyone Should Consider

trademarkThere are 5 crucial points to know about trademarks that might change your entire approach to branding and trademark registration. I’ll start by answering the question what is a trademark.

 

 

What is a Trademark?

Trademarks are signs used in business to identify products and services in the market place.

Customers can find you by recognising your unique sign identifiers and avoid confusing other providers for you.  You might have a variety of identifiers – your name, logo, and tagline being the typical ones.

The single most common one people would recognise you by though, especially if they look for you online, is your name.

So, if you have delivered a good and effective service, and customers want to buy from you again or refer their friends and family to you, the unique identifier they would use to do so will be your name – often not your own personal name, but your business or brand name.

A trademark is a device or tool created by the law that enables consumers to find the products and services they’re interested in. It’s a container of your brand signs, such as your brand name.

Trademarks serve this purpose of being your “badge of origin”.  They’re designed to avoid customer confusion which is why a trademark has to be able to function as a unique identifier of your products and services.  A trademark therefore tends to be a most valuable asset as you build goodwill.

However, not all signs qualify for exclusive “ownership” as trademarks.

 

1. Names that Don’t Qualify As A Trademark

 Say you provide IT support services and call your business IT Support, you won’t be able to stop another IT support business also referring to themselves as IT support.

The law will not give anyone exclusive rights to use a term like IT Support which all other traders in the industry need to be able to freely use. If you use a sign like that which the law will not give you exclusive rights to, (for example, because the sign is too descriptive and not capable of functioning as a trademark), it means don’t have a unique identifier.  Effectively, it’s like not having a name.

Your competitors will be able to use the same sign or similar signs and steal some of your market share – they’ll get business that might have been looking for you. As such it’s like having a leaky colander rather than a leak-proof container for your brand. As such it means your brand value will be reduced, it will be less than it might otherwise have been.

Consumers will be confused when looking for your products and services.

Say you register IT Support with a logo. You will secure trademark registration, yes. However, what you’re essentially getting protection over is the logo, not the name. The law will not accept IT support as functioning as a trademark, so the name element won’t be exclusive to your business. Competitors would also be able to use IT support as a name to identify their business.

As the name is such an important identifier it is important to make sure any name you’re using with your logo is one that is capable of functioning as a trademark.  Otherwise, your trademark registration isn’t going to give you the unique rights over the name element of your trademark that you need. You will end up with customer confusion in the marketplace, and this will reduce your profitability as a business.

On the other hand, if you choose a good name that can uniquely belong to you, it will protect you even where someone is simply using a similar name that could be confused with yours by consumers.

A name that can’t function as a trademark won’t even protect you against use of exactly the same name by a competitor. Remember that buyers are not going to be so aware of the look of your logo if they’ve heard of your business from their friends and family as to be able to recognise from the logo on the website that it’s not your business but that of a competitor.

So, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by a logo trade mark registration. Remember that the primary benefit of a trademark should be to enable you to challenge others who use similar names.

For an IT support business, a better choice of name would be Geek Squad.

However, there can only be one Geek Squad. If someone else is already using the name in the country in which you operate or has registered it as a trademark, you’d need to avoid choosing that name or indeed any name that’s similar to it. Otherwise you’d be infringing on the trade mark rights of the earlier mark.

From this it follows that once you have chosen a name, you MUST check that it’s available to use before adopting it.  So legal effectiveness and availability are keys to trademarks.

Domain and company names need to be checked before use too but it’s trademarks that govern rights in names. The fact that a domain name or company name is available to register doesn’t mean you can use the name for any purpose you like. You must only use the name for purposes which don’t conflict with third parties’ existing trademark rights.

This brings me to the next important aspect of trademarks you should be aware of, and that is trademark classes.

 

2. How Trademark Classifications Work. 

Trademarks are registered by reference to specific ‘classes’ or business categories. So you need to think through your plans, and identify the business categories that are relevant to your type of business, and then search and register your mark in those.

Under trademark law names may be shared.  So, if your desired name is already registered but for different business activities, you may still be able to use the mark, and co-exist with another business who is using the same name for those different purposes.

For example, Automobile Association and American Airlines are both known as AA; and are both registered trademarks.

Similarly, Polo is registered by three different businesses who use the name for a car, confectionery, and a line of clothing. Another example is Delta which is used both as a brand name for airlines, and for kitchenware and appliances. Dove is a brand of personal care products, but it is also a brand of chocolate

The take away from this is to identify the trademark classes applicable for your brand when searching, and drafting your trademark. The classifications determine the scope of protection you get.

You should seek the widest scope of protection necessary to avoid having someone else build up rights to use a brand sign in the business categories you need

Say you register your name to sell clothing, and then later decide to also sell cosmetics. If someone else is using a similar name to yours for cosmetics, you might infringe on their rights by extending your activities to encompass cosmetics, meaning you would need to find a different name for your cosmetics line.

Don’t ever assume you may go ahead and use your name for any business activity you like. First check whether you’ve registered the name for that business category – cosmetics, in this example, and if not, do a search and register in the new business category before embarking on the new use of your name.

 

3. Why Register a trademark

The third point to consider about trademarks is why bother registering.

Trademarks are an essential step to securing the exclusive rights your business needs over elements of your brand identity. It’s also the way to retain your brand’s distinctiveness, and to avoid seeing it become generic.

Registering a trademark is the formality you need to go through to secure ownership over your brand sign. As already mentioned, prioritise the name because it’s the primary way people will identify you.

A trademark enables you to stop others using the same mark. By having a registration in place, others are on notice of your rights.

Provided you’ve checked that you can use the name before you register it you get exclusive rights over the name in the business categories in which you register your mark.

It’s important to undertake proper searches because in some jurisdictions like the EU a registration doesn’t protect you against infringement. For example, Skydrive was a registered trademark of Microsoft but wasn’t enough to prevent them from infringing on Sky’s trademark rights. Sky took the matter to court arguing that the names were confusingly similar for cloud services and the court agreed with Sky. So, Microsoft was forced to rebrand to Onedrive.

Some countries such as Spain require names to be registered as the rights in names are based on who first registers a name rather than who uses it first.

In common law countries using a mark without registering it does give the user certain rights, but they are a lot more limited, and costly to enforce than most people realise. If you don’t register your trade mark, you risk losing uniqueness. Something that started out initially as distinctive to your brand can quickly become generic. Had Coca Cola not protected its iconic bottle right from the outset when the bottle was designed for the company, there is no way the bottle would today be uniquely associated with their brand.

A case that demonstrates how precarious it is to rely on mere use of a mark involved two bands that were both called Blue. BBC. One was a current boy band backed by EMI and the other was a 70s rock group known as Blue. That band had a single released in 1977 which got to number 18 in the charts, and had since released 16 singles, seven albums and several remixes. They hadn’t registered a trademark, and as a result, were unable to stop the new boy band using the name BLUE. The take away is to register a trademark. They’re relatively cheap to register, and very expensive to defend or enforce when you haven’t registered one.

The advantages of registering a trademark are significant. Registration considerably reduces the risk of others picking the same brand element for their new products or services because your registration is on the public trademark registers. People are expected to search these registers before choosing names or other brand elements. If you’re not on the register someone else may build rights over the same name or another brand element, and this can lead to messy disputes and unnecessary costs. If you are on the register they are automatically in the wrong for using the same name and it is, therefore, a lot cheaper for you to enforce your rights than if you hadn’t registered a trademark.

 

4. International trademarks- Strategy

The fourth point about trademarks is that they are territorial.

What this means is that you need to apply to register a trademark in every country in which you want to trade and receive protection.  There is no such thing as an international trademark.

There is an international mechanism in place to apply for trademarks which makes applying for trademarks in a number of countries simpler to achieve. It involves filing an application in your home country first and then thanks to various international agreements between countries worldwide you get 6 months’ protection from the date you first file your first application. If you then file an application under the Madrid system you’re able to extend your base home country trademark to countries who are party to the system. You simply file a single application and designate your desired countries and pay the applicable fees.

 

Unfortunately, if you don’t protect your mark in countries in which you trade, you could find yourself in a situation similar to what happened in Plenty of Fish/Plenty More Fish. Plenty of Fish, a well-established online dating site objected to PlentyMoreFish setting up a rival online dating site in the UK under a similar name.  They opposed PlentyMoreFish’s UK trademark application, arguing that PlentyMoreFish was riding off its reputation by setting up the rival dating site. They lost because they couldn’t show that they had UK customers and as they hadn’t protected their brand with an EU trademark they were powerless to stop PlentyMoreFish. That type of situation would never happen within a country as there would be passing off laws and other remedies under local trademark laws which Plenty of Fish could have used to stop PlentyMoreFIsh. However, online it’s possible for this sort of scenario to arise unless you are vigilant about protecting your mark in countries in which you trade. Best to cover off your home market and the important jurisdictions in which you trade.

Prioritise registering in countries in which you do business first. The fact that trademarks are territorial means your registration only protects you in the UK (or EU, if you’ve registered an EU mark).

A UK trademark registration covers the UK only while an EU trademark registration currently covers all 28 European Union countries in a single application, including the UK.  However, once the UK leaves the EU after Brexit kicks in, an EU trademark will no longer include the UK. So, you should be considering your strategy carefully if you’re registering your mark now.

It is possible to extend your home country registration to other countries that are not party to the Madrid Protocol by filing directly with an agent in that country. At the time of writing, important countries that are not party to the Madrid include Hong Kong, South Africa and Canada. You don’t need to be a household name, or a huge multinational to aspire to be a brand in the sense of becoming a recognised provider of the products and service you sell. Your brand protection is important.

 

5. Oppositions/Objections

Oppositions and objections to trademark applications do occur from time to time and that is the fifth and final point to know about trade marks.

The trade mark process involves a review by the trade mark examiners of the registry to which you apply for your trademark. They may have objections.

A typical objection might be that the trademark isn’t properly applied for or to inform you of search results. Many people who file their own trademark applications don’t understand the Examiner’s objections and tend to abandon their applications as a result.  If you’re filing your own application make sure you have a resource you can turn to for advice if there are objections to your application, as they’re often quite simple to address.

Once any objections are dealt with and your application is approved it is advertised for what is known as opposition purposes.  That’s when existing trademark owners will be alerted to applications that are similar to their registrations so that they can consider whether to oppose any.

Either the IP office notifies them or if they have trademark watch services, they hear from their trade mark agents. They may not necessarily bother to oppose applications. In the UK that doesn’t stop them objecting to a registration several years later. Indeed they often won’t oppose a start up and wait and see whether the start up succeeds before deciding to do so.

The single most valuable information that could literally save some businesses from catastrophic results is to learn from the mistake of Scrabulous.

This was a very successful app on Facebook that provided a Scrabble like game online. It had hundreds of thousands of users when it was stopped overnight almost by a trademark and copyright infringement claim. The business came to the attention of Hasbro, the owners of Scrabble because they filed their own trademark application and Hasbro was notified.

Hasbro considered that the company was infringing on its brand by using a similar name, and were also infringing copyright in the board game.  Hasbro applied to Facebook to have the app taken down. Facebook immediately complied. The company lost its successful business on Facebook virtually overnight.

The set back paved the way for Zynga to enter the market with what has become the market leader, Words With Friends. Scrabulous lost its position as first in the market.

The teaching point here is to get an opinion from a good trademark lawyer before filing an application as the application itself would alert others to your activities.

Had Scrabulous sought my advice, I would have counseled them to quietly rebrand rather than apply for a trademark which was bound to bring their infringement to a head.

You can rebrand to new names without any loss of goodwill because you are able to redirect everyone to your new name. However, when you are required to rebrand due to a trademark infringement claim you lose the value of the brand name recognition you have built up. You lose all the brand value you’d built up as the terms of infringement undertakings will not permit you to repoint traffic or tell people that you used to be called X name.

Much better for a business like Scrabulous to have quietly rebranded to a new name, and never come to the attention of Hasbro. They would still be the market leader today probably.

So, the moral of the tale is not to be cavalier about names or get too attached to a name that you may not legitimately lay claim to. It is not possible to choose whatever name you like. At some point, you need to get an opinion on the name you’re using.

A wider lesson from the above is that if you’re running a business where you don’t think a buyer of your business will want to use your name, that doesn’t mean you need not protect your name or need not to bother to make sure you are using a good name.

Your market share is what a trademark protects. If you’re forced to rebrand you can’t keep the value you had generated, and effectively “vanish” overnight. It’s like being back to square one with a totally new name and business. Nobody knows who you are.

Is a Brand Intellectual Property? Definition of Brand and Intellectual Property

brand and intellectual propertyPeople often ask the question, what is a brand, or what is intellectual property, and is a brand intellectual property. Before I answer that question let’s look at what the terms mean.

A good starting point to understanding what brand and branding mean is to note the word’s origins. It started as a term to describe the identifying mark that was burned on livestock with a branding iron. That was how people could tell who owned the cattle.

Although the concept of branding has its roots in this visual imagery it’s important to appreciate that branding has moved on considerably since those times. While the visual identity matters, of course, branding is nowadays about so much more than a logo, or visual designs.  The visual identity is the final stage of branding not the first.

The Design of Your Business is Key

Branding nowadays is much more about the way you design your business than the designs you get for your business to use.

Even small businesses will have a brand. It’s not necessary to be a household name or a large business for “brand” to be relevant to you.

That’s because if you think about it, the big brands we all know and use, are all known for something specific.  Every single business, charity or entity can be said to have a ‘brand’ in the sense that they all have an identity rather like you or I have an identity as people.

We have a name, a way of dressing, talking, and walking and subjects we are known for or topics that we tend to talk about.

We have beliefs and opinions, and a certain personality. In short, we’re known for something.  People have a certain response to us or think of us in a certain way. So, anyone alive has an identity. The world can tell one person apart from another because of these differences between them.

In the same way, businesses also have an identity – a brand.

A company is a separate person in the eyes of the law. Even if you’re a sole trader your business identity will be an extension of you, but it will be separately identified, often under a trading name.

What you say, how you operate and so on reflects how you come across to others as a business and brand.  So, every business has a brand whether they know it or not. Every business has an identity and personality and as such has a brand.

Branding Process

The branding process involves thinking through how to create a good business that’s reliable and known for delivering on a specific promise. As the brand acquires pulling power, it will attract customers who positively want to do business with it rather than with the competition. The brand a business establishes gradually also attracts employees, suppliers and, ultimately, investors.

Think about the associations you have when considering successful brands such as Ikea or Apple. Notice how these names are known for delivering what is often an unspoken promise. In Ikea’s case, we expect to find affordable self-assembly furniture when visiting its stores. When we buy Apple products, we expect to get something that’s well designed, intuitive and easy to use.

Every brand has its own distinct ‘identity’ and ‘promise’. It’s due to this promise that we know to expect something completely different if we buy a Rolex watch rather than a Swatch.

You will need to think through how you want your business to be known. What quality or outcome will you want to deliver consistently and reliably? How will customers know what to expect if they use your product or service so that there’s little risk of an unpleasant surprise? Buying a product or service from a business whose brand is not yet known is risky because it represents something untried and untested.

Once a business becomes a recognised brand in its marketplace, it can command a price premium or a market premium. People are willing to pay a premium to receive the expected results the brand is known for delivering.

This applies even if the promise of the brand is based on price. For example, people may still prefer to shop at Ikea rather than at an unknown shop that offers even cheaper prices, because they have certain reassurances regarding product quality and the shopping experience they can expect at Ikea.

 

Shopping at Ikea Carries Little Risk

They won’t have this comfort and recognition if they use an unknown seller. Shopping at Ikea carries little risk because Ikea is a brand which means that customers know what to expect from it.

A brand is primarily about substance rather than surface visual imagery.  Indeed, nowadays even employed individuals and business owners need to consider their personal branding in terms of what they want to be known for.

Once you have worked out how you want to be known and sorted out your branding, get some designs to help support the overall impression and feelings you want your brand to evoke and convey.

If you don’t create a successful business that meets a market need, then no amount of ‘visual identity branding’ will turn your business into a brand.

My online course More Than Brand, helps you work through your branding including the intellectual property aspects of branding. You can even use it to work on your personal brand.

 

Intellectual Property

So, turning now to a definition of intellectual property, while I usually attempt to directly answer the question by defining intellectual property, I’ve realised it’s the wrong question.

Defining intellectual property doesn’t give people any greater clarity about what they’re supposed to do about intellectual property. What’ lies behind the question, “What is intellectual property?” is more important to understand here.

The real question is whether Intellectual Property is relevant to a business, and if so why? What should they do about it?

I suggest you think of Intellectual Property as something you need to address in your business because it’s the FIRST consideration any business needs to be mindful of when starting up or developing your ideas.

Contrary to popular belief Intellectual Property (“IP”) isn’t just something you deal with once you’ve succeeded and gained traction. Think of IP as risk management and taking advantage of opportunities.

IP is complex, but you don’t need to learn all its ins and outs. Instead, you just need to put in place some processes in your business to manage the risks and to make sure you don’t lose opportunities.

If you don’t cover off intellectual property, you run various risks such as:

  • of not owning the rights to that app or software, or to your website functionality, which your business could have otherwise exploited to generate extra revenues,
  • finding that the name you’re using infringes on someone else’s rights and is a liability rather than the asset it should be.
  • discovering that your invention can’t be patented because you mentioned it on your website,
  • not having rights to the data that was collected on your behalf by someone who is helping you to set up a networking group.
  • not owning the copyright in your own logo so that you can’t easily take action against someone who is misusing your logo.
  • discovering you are liable for infringing copyright in images or content on your website which your web designer is responsible for.

The value in your business in the digital economy lies in such intangibles.  Intellectual property is what you need to address to protect your business.

Find out about the Legally Branded Academy as people’s understanding of what “protection” involves is quite misconceived and gives rise to the typical mistake businesses make when starting new projects

Your brand is one of the most valuable intellectual property assets your business could own. However, you should take the right actions when choosing it as the very choice itself is how you protect the brand and ensure it has a name that’s suited to its business plans.  The name should be chosen in consultation with an expert brand lawyer and should be protected along with other brand elements.

Legally Branded Academy Course

In the revised Legally Branded Academy course that will be launched later this year, I’ve identified more than 15 processes that a business should introduce to manage intellectual property risks and opportunities such as the example scenarios outlined above.

It is an excellent way to train team members in the essentials they need to know about intellectual property, so they don’t unknowingly take actions that infringe on the IP rights of others.

So, for example, one of those processes involves using a specific template before engaging someone to do work for your business. By always following that process you ensure you secure intellectual property rights in assets being created for you, and in doing so you take significant action to protect your business.

The course isn’t about replacing lawyers. It’s about managing an organisation’s risks in those very early stages when people tend to make some drastic mistakes. Those mistakes happen because people wouldn’t even think of consulting a lawyer so early on.

So Legally Branded Academy Revised is a business process and risk management course.

As intellectual property concepts apply pretty much universally the world over, thanks to various important treaties signed between countries, the Legally Branded Academy is relevant no matter which country you’re located in.

If you want to protect your business now would be a good time to invest in Legally Branded Academy as the price is going to double later this year. Buy it now and get access at the more affordable price it’s currently sold for.