IP Check-Up: 3 Simple Steps to Protect Your Brand

$250 billion. That’s how much the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates intellectual property (IP) theft is costing U.S. companies annually. Small to midsize firms are increasingly becoming the targets of IP infringement, as they often lack the resources to sue potential fraudsters. But protecting your patents, trademarks, and copyrights is simpler than you think. 

“In the time it takes you to have a cup of coffee, you can do a quick housekeeping to make sure you stay protected,” says Anthony Davis. Davis is a partner at Santomassimo Davis LLP, a specialty law firm that offers Outside General Counsel™ solutions. Offering a fully outsourced virtual legal department and support staff, to companies for a fixed monthly fee.

The end of the year is the perfect time to perform an intellectual property check-up. Davis recommends taking these 3 simple steps to protect your brand before the new year.

1. Check The Status Of Your Registrations.

Certain types of intellectual property, like federal trademarks, “have the potential to last forever, but they have to be maintained. You don’t want to lose your rights to them,” Davis says. For example, once the United States Patent and Trademark Office grants a trademark, the owner must continue to use the trademark. Then, file a declaration after the fifth anniversary of the trademark.
To make sure nothing slips through the cracks, Davis recommends utilizing an IP management tool that keeps track of important dates and fees. “It’s much easier to maintain a patent or a trademark than to reinstate it,” he says.

2. Register your trademark with U.S. Customs and online retailers.

Here’s a startling fact: Global sales of counterfeit products are projected to reach $1.82 trillion (yes, trillion) by the end of 2020, according to the Global Brand Counterfeiting Report.

The good news: the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has a program that allows U.S. companies to register their trademarks with border agents, who will flag suspicious packages and notify their brand owners. You can even train border agents on how to spot counterfeits of your brand.

Davis once worked with a client who had registered its e-cigarette brand with the CBP. Shortly afterward, the CBP alerted Davis when a package with his client’s logo was detained at customs. “It turned out that they were counterfeit goods coming from a foreign company,” Davis said. “CBP was really good at coordinating with other offices to completely halt the import of similar goods,” and Davis’ firm was able to take legal action.

Similarly, if your firm is selling products on any major online marketplace, like Amazon or eBay, take the steps to register your trademark through the retailer’s brand registry program. A brand registry allows you to register your trademark in advance to help protect against infringers. “It’s a really great first step to take,” Davis says. “Companies like Amazon get a staggering amount of complaints about IP infringement every day, and they can’t possibly address all of them,” he says. “But if you’re a registered IP owner, they will absolutely help you.”

3. Remind Employees To Stay Alert.

As part of your IP review, Davis recommends taking time to sit down with employees and go over the company’s brand guidelines. “Year-end is a good time to make sure everyone is being vigilant and consistent about the use of your trademark and another branding,” such as approved logos, tag lines, and packaging designs. Appoint someone on the marketing team to conduct a periodic audit to make sure such guidelines are followed.

Finally, remind employees who are out in the marketplace to report back when they see a competitor with confusingly similar products or logos. Davis has been involved in situations where clients’ employees have spotted copycat competitors online, in stores, and at trade shows. The quicker you can identify such problems and have reported them internally, the quicker your legal partner can help. “It’s much easier to resolve these kinds of issues as you see them so that you can avoid litigation,” Davis says.

The bottom line? “Getting a trademark or a patent is only the first step,” Davis says. “Protecting it is an ongoing job.”

Intellectual Property Guidance

Santomassimo Davis LLP has a team of legal experts that can help companies navigate intellectual property issues, including the management of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. For more information on IP management, schedule an appointment and take the necessary steps to protect your brand today.

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