The iconic Coca-Cola® brand is worth about $74 billion. With thousands, millions, and even billions of dollars at stake when it comes to brand recognition, most for-profit companies recognize the importance of trademarks, which protect an organization’s intellectual property, branding, and reputation.
Although most nonprofit trademarks are not as iconic as the Coca-Cola brand, they are just as crucial in protecting nonprofit missions and funding. If your organization neglects to trademark its logo, tagline, and other intellectual property, your good name is at risk.
In this article, you’ll learn six reasons nonprofit trademarks are essential and how to protect your organization’s trademark.
6 Reasons Nonprofit Trademarks Are Essential
Getting a nonprofit trademark is a crucial step in securing your brand and communicating your mission. These are the top reasons your organization needs a nonprofit trademark:
1. Trademarks embody the reputation of your organization. A trustworthy reputation is a cornerstone of every successful organization. And it can take years of hard work, energy, and resources to establish. However, it’s no longer enough to gain public trust by proving your credibility with an unshakable reputation. It’s also essential to safeguard your reputation by defending your intellectual property with a nonprofit trademark.
2. Trademarks protect you from infringement. If another organization steals your logo, company name, or slogan, it will lead to confusion and could tarnish your good name. What’s more, if your branded assets are not trademarked, you’re not eligible to file a lawsuit to recover copyright statutory damages.
3. Nonprofit trademarks generate funds. Nonprofits rely on public donations to create and fund their services and products. A strong, well-protected nonprofit trademark of your organization’s name, programs, services, and/or products will enhance public recognition of your organization’s brand and mission, securing new pools of funding.
4. Trademark protection prevents public confusion. Without nonprofit trademark protection, other organizations may intentionally or unintentionally use a name similar to your organization’s, leading to confusion among the public. This can lead to a damaged reputation or misdirected donations. For organizations that are ideological, issue-based, or religious, public confusion can damage your public relations efforts.
5. Trademark protection prevents the tarnishment of your nonprofit’s name. Consider the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA’s) trademark battle with a cybersquatter. Using the domain PETA.org, a meat lover created a website called “People Eating Tasty Animals”, a “resource for those who enjoy eating meat, wearing fur and leather, hunting, and the fruits of scientific research”. Fortunately for the famous animal rights group, it registered its PETA trademark and successfully retrieved the domain name. However, the automotive titan Nissan was not as lucky in its domain name trademark infringement lawsuits and lost its battle to procure the domain Nissan.com.
6. Licensing facilitates affiliate marketing. Having a well-negotiated license agreement is key to defending your licensed mark. A strong license agreement also helps you build parameters when permitting local and international affiliates to use your mark.
How Can I Protect My Nonprofit Trademark?
To safeguard your nonprofit’s brand identity, it’s essential to trademark your organization’s name, logo, services, and/or products. Here are five steps to secure your trademark and build a lasting reputation that garners public support:
1. Conduct nonprofit trademark searches. Before adopting a program or product name, you should work with a trademark attorney to conduct a trademark search. This will help you determine if your desired nonprofit name is available as a trademark. You don’t want to invest money and time building goodwill under a nonprofit name only to discover it infringes on a prior trademark.
Keep in mind that trademarks also include:
- Nonprofit logos and symbols
- Product names
- Program names
- Service names
- Certification marks (e.g., the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval)
2. Register your nonprofit trademark. Registering your mark with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) entitles you to significant legal benefits including:
- Nationwide protection of your mark
- The presumption of validity and ownership of your mark
- The right to use your registered trademark notice symbol (i.e., ®)
- Enhanced ability to stop infringers
- Greater potential for obtaining monetary damages from infringers
3. Use the proper notice symbol (e.g., the TM vs. R symbol): Prior to registering with the USPTO, you should tag your trademark with the ™ or ℠ symbol (depending if you’re registering a product or service). The symbol alerts the public to your claim of the mark. After registration, you may tag your mark with the ® symbol to alert the public to your federally registered nonprofit trademark rights.
4. Conduct license agreements with affiliates you permit to use your mark. When permitting local chapters or foreign affiliates to use your mark, the parent organization should require a written license agreement. The agreement must detail the terms and conditions under which the chapter or affiliate may use the mark. Such an agreement is essential to preserve your mark’s integrity in the event of a dispute with an affiliate. If a local chapter engages in activities contrary to the mission or policies of the head office, revoking permission to use your mark is one of the best ways to prevent the rogue group from tarnishing your hard-earned reputation.
5. Monitor your mark, and pursue infringers. Once your organization uses and registers its mark, you should be on the lookout for infringing uses. Consider subscribing to trademark watch services that monitor for similar marks. If you become aware of marks that are confusingly similar to your mark, consult a trademark attorney to stop infringing use. Failure to do so can result in the weakening and eventual loss of your rights to the mark.
Don’t Risk Your Reputation.
Nonprofits often overlook the importance of trademark protection until a significant problem arises. To prevent the legal headache of nonprofit trademark infringement, contact our trademark attorneys in the early stages of creating your nonprofit name or launching a new program or service. Our nonprofit lawyers will protect your organization’s brand and fortify the integrity of your organization’s goodwill and reputation.
This memo is provided for general information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice. The transmission of this memo does not create an attorney/client relationship. No recipients of this memo should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this memo without seeking professional legal counsel. Gammon & Grange, P.C. expressly disclaims all liability relating to actions taken or not taken based on the content of this memo.