What Pet Retailers Need to Know About Protecting Their Brand
In the increasingly competitive pet retail market, entrepreneurs and small business owners are looking for any advantage they can get. And there’s no shortage of ways—ranging from free to extremely expensive—to help develop your business’ brand and get it in front of potential customers, driving sales and building a solid reputation.
But how can you be certain that you’re protecting your brand at the same time you’re working so hard to promote it? One of the best ways is by applying for and receiving federal trademark registration for your retail pet business’ name. Here’s an overview of what you need to know about the trademark process and its impact on your retail pet business.
What is a trademark?
Granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is a name, word or symbol that represents a product or service offering. When your business receives a trademark, you’re essentially being allowed exclusive rights to use that mark; the USPTO will not grant another individual or business in your industry the same trademark.
Do small- and mid-sized pet retailers need trademarks?
Yes, even a one-store pet business can benefit from trademark protection. Here’s why: Imagine that your small pet business, JOE’S PETS has been in business for three years and you’ve grown a steady base of repeat customers and positive online reviews. All is going well until one of your regular customers comes in and asks if you’re related to JOE’S PETS & MORE that has opened in a neighboring state.
Certainly, the other pet retailer doesn’t have the exact same name—but the name is similar enough that it’s understandable that current and potential customers could unintentionally do business with your competition when they intended to patronize your business.
And imagine what would happen if the local news reported that JOE’S PETS & MORE was being accused of mistreating animals in their care for grooming services, or a video went viral on social media showing a JOE’S PETS & MORE manager berating a minority employee. It’s easy to see how your business could inadvertently get caught in the middle.
Trademarks Provide Legal Recourse
How would your business handle the situation described above? The answer depends on if you own the federal trademark to the JOE’S PETS name. If the answer is “yes,” it’s both your legal right and obligation to ensure that other pet-focused businesses do not infringe on your name by using it or any other name that is similar enough as to confuse potential customers. In this situation, you would work with your attorney to reach out to JOE’S PETS & MORE with a demand that the company change its name.
If you were operating without a trademark, however, your path forward would be more challenging. You could request that JOE’S PETS & MORE change its name, but if it was located far enough away, your legal case may be tenuous. The lesson learned here is that federal trademark registration is an investment in your business and its future.
Trademark Your Name First
If your budget allows, work with your attorney to file trademark applications for your business name and logo simultaneously. But if money is tight, always opt to file for trademark protection on your name before your logo. Why? Because by doing so, you can be certain you’ll receive the broadest level of protection available on your business’ name.
If you were to file for trademark protection only on your logo, you would receive protection on your business name only as it appears within the graphic context of your logo—meaning if you applied for trademark protection for JOE’S PETS written in a circle in 14-point royal blue Papyrus font, you would have to use that logo ad infinitum to maintain your federal trademark registration. If you created a new logo three years down the road, your federal registration would not apply to that use and your business name would likely lose the benefits of federal registration.
Trademarks Help Protect Your Brand
For pet retailers interested in maintaining and growing your business, trademarks offer valuable brand protection that keeps you from risking all of your hard work. Even small- and mid-sized pet retailers can benefit from federal trademark registration as a way to prevent customer confusion and protect your reputation. For businesses facing budget constraints, remember to register for protection of your business name first, then brand elements like your logo. By following these guidelines, you’ll be helping to set up your retail pet business for continued growth and success.
Founder of U.S. based Gerben Law Firm, PLLC, Josh Gerben is a trademark attorney whose trademark law firm has secured over 5,000 trademarks for clients since 2008 and provided protection for countless filings. Josh Gerben has been featured in a variety of national news outlets including FOX News, NPR, Huffington Post and The Wall Street Journal.