Why Your Pet Business Needs a Trademark (And How The Sh*t Might Hit The Fan If You Don’t Have One)

trademarkAre you one of the rare few pet business owners who have a trademark for your pet business?

If so, you don’t need to read this. Run along! Have fun!

But if you don’t have a trademark for your pet business…please do read this. Reading this may save you thousands of dollars – and a lot of heartache down the road. (And we all know how important it is to save money and to be good to our hearts.)

A few years ago I was coaching a woman who had a business name that was similar to a well-known franchise.

I alerted her to this in her coaching session and asked her if she was aware of the franchise and the fact that her business name was very similar to that franchise.

“Oh yeah”, she said. “I know about that franchise but my business is such a small business that it’s not going to be a problem. And my business name isn’t identical so it’s not a big deal.”

I strongly recommended that she change her name because I suspected that it might become a problem at some point.

She decided not to change her name.

She didn’t want to go through the hassle of changing her business name. She also said that it would cost too much to change all her marketing materials.

In the next session I again urged her to change her name.

But she didn’t want to and so she didn’t. (I will usually bring up ‘red flags’ a couple of times in my pet business coaching sessions and after that, I let it go. I’m here to shine the business flashlight for my clients, not cram it down their throat.)

A few years later I received a frantic email from this same woman. The franchise had contacted her and had demanded that she change her business name immediately or they would take legal action against her.

She was scared. She was also angry that this big, horrible (her words, not mine) company was coming after her because here she was a small company and wasn’t competing with them, a big franchise. And her name wasn’t identical. Why would they bother coming after her? (She was pissed. But underneath the anger -as it is for most of us- was fear.)

She lost a lot of sleep for the next few days and finally decided to change her business name. She didn’t want to spend the thousands of dollars to fight this company and both I (and her attorney) told her she would have lost the case anyway, since her name was so similar and they held the trademark.

I’ve had to deal with this a number of times in my own business…

Recently someone was using the phrase ‘six-figure pet business’ in their marketing materials and many of you alerted me to this (thank you, dear ones, you guys are the best!)

I sent an email alerting this person to the fact that I hold the trademark and that using that phrase is illegal. Who knows if this person realized that what they did was illegal (it doesn’t really matter if they realized that or not) but what matters is that I, as the business owner, need to defend my business name, especially if it’s causing confusion for my clients. And if you have the trademark for your business name and someone is using the same or similar name then it’s important for you to defend your business too.

And don’t worry – if you have the trademark for your business name then defending your name will probably come naturally for you as some of our most primal feelings come up when we see someone who is using our trademarked business name. Those primal feelings are usually enough to fuel us to take action!

I had to do a lot of trademark defending when I owned my pet sitting and dog walking business. I had the trademark for my business name and had to ‘go after’ business owners who had similar -or the same- names as mine.

I disliked doing that (one of my least favorite parts of owning a business is defending the trademark, let me tell you) BUT when similar names create confusion for clients (even if the businesses with similar names are on opposite ends of the country) it’s one of those actions that you simply have to take as a business owner.

And this is why when that franchise went after my client, I didn’t blame them at all. Her business name was creating confusion for their company. They had to defend their company. And if it happens to you and your trademarked business name, you will need (and want) to do defend your business too.

So, pet business owners, here are some action steps for you around trademark issues:

1. If you don’t have a trademark, get a trademark for your pet business name. As soon as possible. (And be sure to use a lawyer to set up the trademark because that will ensure that if it’s yours to get, you will get it. Years ago I had the experience of applying for a trademark and my application was rejected. I then used a lawyer to apply for the trademark and they were able to successfully get me the trademark.) Please note that the application approval or rejection process can take many months so you’ll need to be patient.

2. If your business name can’t be trademarked then change your name so it can be trademarked. (The longer you wait, the more painful it will be to have to change your name if someone comes after you for trademark infringement. And when that happens, it won’t be pretty and it will be very expensive if the trademark suit goes to court.)

3. If you have a trademark and someone is using your name (or a very similar name that could cause confusion), contact them with a friendly email first. I know, I know. Believe me, I know. It feels like someone is stealing your business name -and they are and yes, it’s illegal- and you are probably angry about that but do give them the benefit of the doubt. They may not know that your business exists. They may not be aware that you hold the trademark for that business name. (It’s unlikely in this age of powerful search engines but you never know.) Assume their innocence. Keep the email short and sweet and write something simple like: “I’m not sure if you are aware or not but I hold the trademark for ______ (your business name). Your business name is identical (or very similar) to mine and is causing confusion for my clients. Please change your business name by _______ (date). Failure to do so will result in legal action. Thanks.”

4. If the ‘friendly email’ doesn’t work then you’ll want to hire a lawyer to send a ‘cease and desist’ letter to them. (My fiance’ is a lawyer and he tells me that in the legal world those ‘cease and desist’ letters are called NastyGrams.) 🙂

trademark 2If you need to send a ‘NastyGram’ or need to have a trademark attorney set up your trademark for you, I recommend searching online for “low cost legal aid” or “Pre-Paid Legal” and your town to find an inexpensive attorney in your area who can help you.

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