Have You Met My Good Friend, TESS?

Love it or hate it, every firm needs it. I’m talking about branding. Whether you’re building a fresh website, adding signage in your office or streaming out reams of corporate communications, the branding that accompanies it is to your firm what that “canstockphoto11443547-branding-cow-webresCircle-K” is on a steer’s butt. Your colors and fonts, your artwork, style guides, logo, firm name and more come together as your branding. “This is us and ours!” it says, loud and clear.
Your choicest words are also integral to your firm’s branding, otherwise known as your tagline. This is where I typically come into the mix. I love to corral the hours of conversation I hold and pages of notes I take when discovering a firm, into the select handful of words that magically embody the essence of who you are and what you stand for.

Given the labor of love an excellent tagline entails, it’s well worth taking two important steps as you prepare your precious words:

1. Make sure your words aren’t already taken.

Has anyone else got a trademark on the ideal phrases you’ve got in mind? If they do, and especially if they’re in the same or a similar industry, proceed with caution!

2. Protect your words from being taken.

Have you trademarked them yet yourself? If you fail to do so, and somebody else trademarks them after the fact, they may be able to demand that you cease & desist, even if you came up with them first. In legal jargon, that would be a bummer.

These may seem like no-brainer, safety-first acts, but they are often overlooked during the far more exciting acts of creation and implementation.

Introducing: TESS

At least for U.S. advisers, allow me to introduce you to a good friend of mine who is eager to help you with your trademarking interests whenever you’re working on your branding: Please meet TESS, otherwise known as the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System.

I suggest you befriend and bookmark TESS as I have, and visit her often. Are you toying with some new, key phrases for your firm? Enter them into her free search engine, and she’ll tell you whether somebody already has trademarked the phrase. She’ll also let you know who they are and what industry they’re in. If you already have trademarks of your own, have you checked to see if TESS knows about them?

It’s important to note: Even if TESS does not find a direct hit on your query, this is not a guarantee that you’re safe. But it does give you immediate (and did I mention, free) feedback on whether the phrase is either (a) definitely unavailable or (b) likely to be available.

Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a desired finalist, as TESS herself advises, you should still consult with an intellectual property (IP) attorney. Since I am decidedly not an IP attorney, the same should be said about everything I’ve just suggested here.

Happy trails to you!

PS: No cattle were harmed in the creation of this post.