If you want to turn your business into a franchise, it’s important for you to protect your intellectual property. Trademarks are important to how the public identifies your goods or services, and they’re a key part of building brand loyalty among consumers.
As a franchisor, you’ll need to allow your franchisees to build on your business reputation. Consequently, owning trademarks that you can defend is critical.
What Is a Trademark?
Is your business name a trademark? What about the brand names your company uses? Or your logo or tagline?
Any or all of these can be trademarks. With only a few limitations, any word, name or symbol used to identify the goods you sell or the services you provide can become a trademark. In fact, most franchise systems have several trademarks.
The purpose of a trademark is to allow you to protect your brand from use — or misuse — by competitors. This helps to prevent unfair competition and consumer confusion among products and services and provides you with a legal avenue through which to pursue violations.
Can You Trademark Your Franchise System?
Not everything can be trademarked. Even if you’ve used your business and brand names for years, they may not be legally protectable.
Names that are simply descriptive cannot usually be trademarked. For example, you may not be able to get a trademark for a pizza chain called “Your Pizza Shop” or a maid service called “Utah Cleaners.” Those names aren’t unique or strong enough to protect under the law.
Suggestive trademarks (meaning evocative, rather than off-color) require a subtle leap in thought for the public to understand the nature of the goods or services. These are often afforded some level of protection, but there’s a risk that the courts may consider names to be descriptive rather than suggestive. Familiar examples that have worked include Greyhound, as the name suggests speedy transportation, and Citibank, as it brings financial services to mind.
Arbitrary trademarks, or those that have nothing to do with franchise system products or services, typically have the highest level of protection under the law. Apple computers is one of the best examples. Apples and computers have nothing in common, so this trademark is especially strong.
Must You Register Franchise System Trademarks?
Registration isn’t mandatory for trademarks, as you can establish common-law rights. These laws are weak, however, and may not afford adequate legal protection for your franchise system.
Federal registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office will provide you nationwide rights. No one anywhere else in the country will be able to use the same or similar names or logos.
Registering your trademarks may not be enough, however, if a local business has pre-existing common-law rights. If you grant a license to a franchisee in an area with such a business, you could open up your franchise system to potential trademark infringement claims.
The safest and most reliable way to ensure your trademark rights are protected is to trust a legal expert to assist you with this process. The Franchise & Business Law Group can answer all of your questions about trademarks and any other issues that concern your franchise system. Contact our Salt Lake City, Utah, office today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced franchise attorneys.