A company's brand, or identity in the marketplace, is often its most valuable asset. The brand is the touchstone the company builds itself around — a symbol of quality, a mark with a reputation for excellent service, and an important means of building goodwill and long-term loyalty. Founders spend countless hours brainstorming names or logos, and once a brand is settled on they often pour even more hours (and dollars) into securing all the necessities of a modern company: a business entity, a domain name, social media accounts, business cards, marketing materials, and perhaps the occasional fun item (branded socks, anyone?).
With all of this time, effort and money invested, founders often forget an important step: brand clearance. Brand clearance is nothing more than a focused, thorough, and directed search to confirm that a particular brand name or logo is worth the investment. Without it, many companies have found themselves a year into formation and having to change their brand — losing market recognition and momentum in the process.
Basic steps in brand clearance include the following:
- Is the entity name available in the state you intend to form the company? Often a check on the Secretary of State website is sufficient, but beware that each state has its own rules on how unique a name must be, which words must or mustn't be in the name, and which entities are required for particular services.
- Is the trademark available for registration? Federal trademark registration provides a number of significant benefits, including the ability to prevent others across the United States from using the mark for similar goods or services. A proper brand clearance looks at the federal trademark database as well as the individual databases of all states and territories. For some brands, an international search is also critical - think of video game developers in the United States who often seek game distribution in Southeast Asia. Understanding trademark availability can help a company secure a valuable asset in their growth, and can also provide a shield from early accusations of copying or infringement.
- Is the domain name available? Consider not just identical domains, but similar ones as well. Consider also alternative top-level domains (TLDs) such as .co, .tech, and .tv. Look also for slight misspellings - will these deprive you of valuable traffic to your future site?
- Are the social media accounts taken? Often a new brand is willing to make slight changes to its social media handle to get a descriptive word or phrase, but brand clearance is a means of thinking ahead. Who has a handle which is similar, and what will happen when potential or current customers accidentally arrive at that account?
- Does your visual brand, such as a logo, create a risk of trademark or copyright infringement? An early tool for this is an image reverse search, which allows you to provide your logo or image and find other images on the internet which are visually similar.
Proper brand clearance can involve many other steps, including an internal review to be certain that intellectual property such as a logo actually belongs to the company and not to individual owners, employees or third-parties. But that, my friends, is for another blog post.
To learn more about brand clearance, please visit the Trademark or Transactional pages at Creedon PLLC.