April 14, 2022
By Xavier T. Romero
After decades establishing its brand across the globe as the place to grab a coffee and a handful of Munchkin donuts, Dunkin’ Donuts spent up to an estimated $100M rebranding by taking a bite out of its own name! Even though Dunkin’ (as it’s now known) was bought for $11.3B in 2020, each Main Street business should consider paying the same level of attention that Dunkin’ dedicated to protecting its own branding through trademarks. Most Fortune 500 brands are typically established household names with the kind of reach that warrants spending millions when necessary to protect “the brand”. And still, nearly 1 million new trademark applications were filed last year with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
The USPTO suggests that the “growth of online sales during the pandemic, government stimuli and subsidies…and a robust level of entrepreneurialism” can be attributed to the 27.1% increase in trademark applications from 2020 to 2021. There seems to be no sign of stopping the mad dash for a trademark registration. Securing a registered trademark hinges on being the first to use that mark and the first to secure notice to the entire country of that use through registration with the USPTO. We know the Internet gave the traditional brick-and-mortar store access to the global marketplace. But now, platforms like Etsy, Amazon, and Grubhub have hurtled small business access into international commerce with the same speed as a Blue Origin rocket. This means more small and medium-sized businesses qualify under the “interstate commerce” requirement to register a trademark with the USPTO.
The flip side to this increased customer access is increased business competition. A federally-registered trademark is far more crucial now than ever for two very important reasons. First, it grants smaller businesses greater ability to control how they build their own goodwill among their targeted customer base. More importantly, though, a federal trademark helps protect a smaller business from being assailed or bullied by larger organizations and competitors. Occasionally, competitors operating in separate markets, with even slightly greater resources, will maneuver to force a budding venture that has not adequately protected its intellectual property into the tough position of paying legal costs to retain its brand or forfeiting the name and corresponding goodwill, just as that enterprise is reaching escape velocity.
As the old adage goes, “if you snooze, you lose.” If you do not secure your place in the global commercial economy, you might just be muscled out of whatever goodwill you may have built. The State of Georgia is now the tenth largest exporter in the nation with nearly 90% of Georgia exporters being comprised of small and medium-sized firms. Georgia exports are reported to have grown 34% from 2010 to 2020. In turn, the State has taken focused efforts to facilitate international growth through measures like enacting new arbitration laws such as the Georgia Uniform Mediation Act to streamline international business disputes. Still, individual measures must be taken to strengthen a business’s market position as quickly as possible.
Whether the size of a couple dozen assorted donuts or more like a handful of Munchkins, every business must now accept the reality that brand names, slogans, and logos are important assets that must be preserved and protected with trademarks. Even businesses as seemingly humble as local breweries and pubs are increasingly seeking the national protection afforded by a federal trademark registration. To ensure your chance of success registering your mark among the 1 million other applicants, be sure to obtain the guidance of qualified professionals who can help you guide you through the trademark process to avoid the perils of global commerce and protect your brand.
Xavier T. Romero is an associate attorney with Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP currently representing clients in various civil litigation and intellectual property matters. If you are a business owner seeking legal advice regarding trademarks, or any other civil matters, Xavier and the other attorneys at Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP have the knowledge and expertise to assist you.