Personal branding and the laws regarding it can be quite confusing, and most people are not even sure what the law explicitly says. Words like "copyright", "patent," and "trademark" are sometimes mistaken for synonyms of each other. Understanding and knowing the law is essential for a business to thrive and protect itself. According to the Cambridge dictionary, brand protection is defined as "the act of preventing someone from illegally making and selling a product using a brand name owned by another company."
Does copyright law protect a brand name?
The short answer is no. Copyright law is a type of intellectual property law. Copyrights protect original works of authorship such as music, art, poems, plays, novels, songs, etc. A business or brand name does not fall within this category. In order to get a copyright, one must register with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The problem with this is the process takes years and is on a first come, first serve basis. The benefit of a copyright is that others cannot legally use your intellectual property without permission.
Does trademark law protect a brand name?
Ding, ding, ding! Trademark law does protect a brand name. Brand names are trademarks because they distinguish the source of goods of one party from those of other parties. When someone uses a brand name with a trademark owned by someone else, it is called trademark infringement. Trademark infringement is when the name is likely to cause consumer confusion as to the source of a certain good. What qualifies as trademark infringement is decided by a judge after weighing several different factors. These factors include evidence of actual consumer confusion, the proximity of the goods that are sold, the similarity of the brands, similarities in marketing techniques, and the intent behind the trademark infringement. Some of these factors are more a matter of personal opinion than fact, so trademark infringement can be a tricky battle to fight.
How can knowing the law protect you?
If you believe someone is committing trademark infringement against your brand, then action must be taken immediately or the consequences could be devastating. Consumers might confuse a product with the same or a similar name with your product. This can directly lead to a loss of valued customers and therefore a loss in revenue. Consumers might not even be aware that there are two different products. It could also lead to bad publicity for your business if this other product does not hold high standards for its production. Any mishap, such as a foodborne illness, manufacturing error, or any other types of contaminants in the product can cause customers to associate products with that name as dangerous to the health and safety of their families. Knowing the law can prevent all these negative outcomes by telling you what actions you are legally allowed to take.
Even if you are not sure that trademark infringement has occurred, it is better to be safe than sorry. Once damage to your reputation is done it is nearly impossible to reverse.