Imagine your credit union is undergoing a rebrand. You’ve spent months selecting a new name, creating a new set of brand guidelines and even designing a gorgeous new logo. Everything has been going according to plan, and you can’t wait to unveil it to the public. When the day for your new brand to launch finally rolls around, to your horror, you discover that another credit union has a trademark on the name you selected. Cue “The Price is Right” losing horn.
Trademarks exist to protect your credit union and serve as intellectual property. Trademarks are important to credit unions because they help protect your brand as expressed in recognizable images, signs, logos, designs or expressions. A well-defined brand, in turn, distinguishes products and services and builds loyalty among members. Think about the Nike “swoosh.” Not only is Nike’s name trademarked, but the symbol is, too. Both are recognizable, and both are impactful.
It’s not necessarily a fast process to go from zero to Nike. You might find a name, logo or mark that’s “just so you” and it’s listed as available, but you’ll need to start the process as soon as possible so as to not lose it. This will minimize delays in the full deployment of your new brand as well as ensure that you are able to secure whatever it is you want to trademark before it’s too late. On average, it takes one year to complete the entire process.
But why spend an entire year on this? Why is trademarking so important to your credit union? Glad you asked!
Trademarking now can prevent a world of hurt later. This may seem like it goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many brands forego trademarking their business assets. By failing to register a trademark, not only could you be potentially damaging your brand’s reputation, but you could also be putting the entire business at risk. That is because trademarks are protected by law, and if you continue business without one, you could find yourself in the middle of a costly legal battle. No one wants that. Nothing could ruin a good week more than receiving a cease and desist letter in the mail, which could bring your marketing to a halt.
In order to avoid that, you can get the process rolling by performing a trademark search here and then hiring a trademark attorney. Only an attorney can conduct the legal search on your behalf and will know how to better define the search criteria in ways you can’t. The attorney will also have the legal expertise to analyze the search results. Even though you may have seen every episode of Law and Order, it’s important to bring in the professionals when determining risk.
It’s a common misconception that by creating a company or by registering for a business license, you have the right to use your name/logo and prevent third parties from using the same one or something similar. One and done, right? Not quite. Unless that name and logo are registered as trademarks, you can’t be certain they belong to you. If another financial institution registers the marks (or similar ones) first, you could find yourself in the inconvenient and costly position of becoming entangled in litigation. You may have to pay damages or an account of the profits registered to the trademark owner. Not only that, you’ll also risk any goodwill you’ve established with your credit union’s brand over the years. Cue that losing horn again.
Your credit union’s brand is a critical asset to your overall success. Investing more time and resources up front will save you some potential headaches down the road. You’ll rest easy knowing that your credit union will have a stronger brand that is protected appropriately.
Now cue “The Price is Right” winning sound, go win that Showcase Showdown and make Bob Barker and Drew Carey proud!