Imagine you have an idea for a brilliant product that the market needs. You spend hours each day doing research and consulting to develop it into a business and eventually launch it into a brand. The sales come pouring in, but a few months later, you see a different company with a logo similar to yours selling a similar product, and your sales start to drop.
This is a classic case of trademark infringement, and it is on the rise in the United States. According to one report, 74% of brands reported trademark infringement in 2017, 81% in 2018 and 85% in 2019. This caused consumer confusion which resulted in lower sales and revenues. Brands are often permanently damaged when they are copied, and many are forced to cease operating altogether.
The only way to respond to brand infringement is with legal action. Companies seek out lawyers who are competent in commercial law to help them stop infringement so that they can earn back their brands and reclaim market share.
If you are reading this because you are interested in helping companies that have suffered trademark infringement, one of the quickest ways to qualify is to enroll in an online juris doctor program. It is a professional degree that allows you to become a lawyer. To enroll, you need to have a bachelor’s degree but not necessarily a Master’s.
In the first year of the course, you will cover foundational legal work in disciplines like constitutional law, civil procedure, contract law, criminal law, property law and torts. As you progress in your course you specialize, and you can choose from fields like corporate law and antitrust law.
You can opt to attend classes in person or online. Many professionals choose the online option because it takes a shorter time to complete a degree. If you pace yourself as advised by your instructors you can earn your qualifications in about three and a half years.
If you are determined to specialize in company law, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with trademark infringement and why it is important in today’s business environment.
What is trademark infringement?
It is the unauthorized use of another company’s trademark or service mark. A trademark or service mark is anything that is used to uniquely identify a business, its products or its services. It can be a mark, a symbol, a logo or even a phrase.
When infringement occurs companies can seek recourse by initiating legal action. If a court declares for the company, the infringing party must immediately cease to use the mark or logo, and the aggrieved party may win compensatory damages.
Entrepreneurs and start-up owners need to understand trademarks, trademark law, and why it is important to keep an eye out for infringements. Many promising businesses have gone under because they neglected the impact of others infringing on their trademarks.
There are many examples of companies that have lost billions because their right to use a trademark was revoked. Aspirin, for example, was a trademark owned by Bayer until it lost trademark rights in 1919. Similarly, Otis lost the trademark for Elevator in 1950. More recently, Apple lost the right to trademark the words “app store”.
All these companies, despite having originated the brand names lost them because they became so ubiquitous that it didn’t make sense to have them associated with one particular business anymore. They became victims of their runaway success.
This is hardly going to be a problem for a start-up, but they stand to lose market share if their brands are copied. Businesses that had plenty of potential sometimes end up closing their doors because they cannot afford to regain market confidence. Some give up because they cannot afford the legal costs associated with trademark infringement cases.
How can businesses reduce the risk of trademark infringement?
Trademark litigation is expensive, and that is why many small companies that become embroiled in trademark wars eventually close shop. To ensure that you don’t fall into this trap, start-ups can take the following steps:
- Do a proper trademark search
Trademark infringement can go both ways. A company might unwittingly find itself using another company’s unique mark. Before registering a new business entrepreneurs should do a trademark search to see whether they could potentially be treading on another business’s toes.
- All trademarks should be registered and actively used
If a company trademark isn’t registered and isn’t often used, it’s difficult to prove that they are the actual owners of the mark.
- Monitor trademarks closely
This job is often left to corporate lawyers. They are tasked with keeping an eye on the market to ensure that the brand remains intact. If they notice anyone trying to infringe, they initiate legal action right away to retain brand authenticity.
- Initiate litigation as soon as you notice an infringement
If you let another business use your logo for two years before you initiate legal action it can be difficult to prove that the infringement impacted your operations. You waited two years before reporting the matter, so it can hardly have been that bad. Companies that take legal action right away stand a better chance of retaining brand integrity.
- Business owners should have a basic understanding of trademark law
They don’t have to be expertly acquainted with the subject, but a little knowledge can go a long way in identifying infringements and deciding on the next steps.
Alternatively, they can retain a lawyer who is an expert in this area so that when infringements occur they are identified and dealt with immediately.
What are the job prospects for online juris doctor graduates?
After you complete your degree you can join a law firm that deals in company law. Spend a few years there so that you have enough experience and money to eventually start a law practice. Alternatively, you can be employed by a large corporation in the legal department where you will spend your time making sure that the company’s brands are safe at all times.
Trademark infringement is becoming increasingly common in the United States, with nearly three-quarters of small businesses dealing with it at one time or another. For online juris doctor graduates, there are plenty of opportunities to help these businesses protect their brands.