Do you have a registered trademark for brands sold in your ecommerce business? If the answer is no, what actions are you taking to protect your brand? Without a trademark, the unique aspects of your brand, business, products, and packaging are at risk of being copied. Ecommerce businesses are especially susceptible to this form of theft and plagiarism. It’s easier to share and connect within a vast network. The internet allows people to shop businesses across the world and provides users with access to more information and ideas than ever before. This is exciting, but if the necessary precautions aren’t set up, anyone can turn your ideas into theirs without consequences. In other words, trademarking is essential to the protection of an ecommerce business.

What is trademarking?

A trademark is a form of intellectual property that identifies and distinguishes the source of a product. Trademarks can be a word, phrase, logo, symbol, trade dress, package design. See below for a list:

  • Store, brand, and product names
  • Logos (symbol)
  • Slogans (phrase)
  • Color and color combinations
  • Designs
  • Shapes
  • Textures
  • Graphics
  • Trade dress (packaging design, shape, size, color or color combinations, texture, graphics)
  • Unique words
  • Product descriptions

Common examples include the Nike swoosh (logo), McDonald’s Happy Meal bag (package design), and UPS brown (color). Verbs are not included in the list because they cannot be trademarked.

Registered vs. Unregistered

Trademarks can be registered or unregistered. The ™ symbol indicates an unregistered trademark or a trademark that has been registered, but not at the federal level. This type of trademark does not provide enough protection for an ecommerce business. The unregistered trademark symbol is often used to discourage others from using the associated mark, but doesn’t hold legal significance. The ® symbol implies a registered trademark. A registered trademark must be obtained through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This is a legal and federal process.

Why is trademarking necessary in ecommerce?

Benefits of Trademarking vs. Risks of Not Trademarking

Trademarks can help operational aspects of ecommerce business. Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Walmart offer benefits to businesses with a registered trademark. For Amazon’s Brand Registry, sellers with registered trademarks can join and receive counterfeit protection and access to unique analytics.

The primary value of a trademark is the protection and security that it provides. Trademarking offers protection for your business, brand, products, and product packaging. You should control the narrative for how your brand is represented online. Protecting your brand image and identity with trademarks is one way to ensure sustainability and establish dominance in the marketplace.

With ecommerce allowing more options and greater comparison abilities, differentiation has become essential to the success of online businesses. If customers are unable to distinguish between you and your competitors, your brand will be forgotten and lost in the consideration stage. It could be worse if your unique features are copied and stolen by others and the copy-cats generate more business than you. Hijacking has become an unfortunate and prevalent concern among the ecommerce industry. As scammers take advantage of un-trademarked ideas, building a line of defense has become a necessary strategy for brand survival.

What are the steps for getting a registered trademark?

Trademark Registration Process:

  1. Determine if your design or unique piece of intellectual property can be trademarked.
    • Refer to the list above for assistance.
  2. Find out if your idea is already trademarked.
    • The USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) is a public search database. Use this to search for logos, names, phrases, designs that might be similar.
    • Related marks will appear in the search results, if they have already been filed.
  3. File for application.
    • The application is the same for all registered trademarks.
    • The initial filing fee ranges between $225 and $400 and may include additional fees.

If the filing process seems expensive and time-consuming, think of the profits you’ll lose if a competitor steals and copies the features that make your brand unique. While this process requires time, energy, and dedication to complete, the steps are easy to follow. Another option is to hire an intellectual property attorney to make this process more manageable.

What happens after you receive your registered trademark?

Use it! A trademark never expires, as long as you continue to use it and pay your maintenance fees. Protect your brand by filing a Statement of Use. If your business is selling internationally or looking to expand its customer base, consider trademarking in other countries. If infringement occurs, hire an attorney to defend your registered trademark. Protect your brand by trademarking as many unique aspects of your products as possible.