By: John Butcher
In the world of online sales, branding can be the main factor that leads to a business’s success or failure. 21st-century consumers have no shortage of options, and with many companies vying for similar markets, the difference between them comes down to the brand more than the product. This is where trademarks come in.
What are Trademarks?
Trademarks fall under the general category of intellectual property law, or IP law. They are one of four primary elements of IP, the other three being copyrights, patents, and trade secrets.
Whereas copyrights and patents can protect a brand’s creative work and inventions, and trade secrets protect confidential information, trademarks exist to protect the brand itself. Trademarks shield elements related to brand identity from imitation or impersonation. This extends from the obvious aspects such as company names and logos, to more subtle details like brand color schemes, soundmarks, and slogans.
Trademarks do not legally have to be registered if business is being done only in one geographic location, but in the case of e-commerce that point is moot. Customers online can come from anywhere in the US and abroad. In this case, a trademark should be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in order to be able to litigate against brand identity theft.
Why Register a Trademark?
The small “TM” or “R” symbol next to a brand name may seem innocuous, but with it comes an association of trust and identity. Registered brand names ensure that other companies cannot try to impersonate them without fear of litigation. Without a registered trademark, the original owner has little to no protection against infringing parties.
Brand identity also involves taglines and logos, which should be trademarked as well. Going beyond trademark registration , it is also crucial to file design patents for the aesthetic properties of a product that can define a brand. Just like Apple products are recognizable by their white, sleek color scheme, and glass Coca Cola bottles have a signature shape, most successful companies make their products instantly identifiable without the need to see a logo or brand name.
Trademark registration at its core exists to enforce brand identity, and design patents help add to that principle. But what exactly makes brand identity important?
Brand Identity in E-Commerce
The reason that brand identity, and thus trademark registraton, is so important in the e-commerce market is that being successful involves so much more than offering a good product.
Of course, having a great product or service to sell is a great foundation, but the rapid evolution of consumer-focused e-commerce adds many more factors into the equation. The main issues here are a saturation of options and the reliance on consumer trust.
The online marketplace is not limited by geography or a time schedule. This mean that consumers don’t need to buy based on convenience or proximity; they can find the exact product they’re looking for, sold by a myriad of providers, and choose the one that most appeals to them. Given this saturation of supply, purchasing decisions become more influenced by brands.
This leads to the second factor: consumer trust. The internet, being as intangible as it is, offers many options but among those there will be lower quality products and numerous scams. According to J.D. Houvener of Bold Patents:
“E-commerce offers a decreased ability to try things ahead of time and engage with real people to get a sense of their reliability. Thus, consumers will try to find companies they trust and become very loyal to those that reward their trust with good, reliable service.”
Having a consistent brand identity enables that building of trust among consumers; people will know the brand’s name, logo, and slogan and will be able to recognize other people using its services or buying its products. A collective trust can develop when people see other people using a product; this almost becomes an endorsement. Thus, trademark registration becomes crucial to e-commerce market success in the long term.
Trademarks are essential for e-commerce because they establish brand identity. This means that no other companies in the field can tarnish a brand’s reputation by using the same name, logo, or slogan.
A positive brand association, or even just name recognition, boosts e-commerce sales and success. In a market where consumers have so many options to choose from, good brand awareness can often make the crucial difference. Every business should make sure to register trademarks as soon as they can to reap their benefits.
This article discusses general legal issues and developments. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current law in your jurisdiction. These informational materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. Bend Law Group, PC expressly disclaims all liability in respect of any actions taken or not taken based on any contents of this article