By Janet Switzer (Guest blogger)
The information products that you develop and sell are valuable properties that should be protected -- in the same way major corporations, big-name publishing brands and celebrity authors protect their intellectual property rights.
Intellectual properties are things like published works, recordings, website content, your brand and your trademark. And part of building an information empire is securing the legal control, ownership and defense of these properties -- from registering your trademark, to recording your copyrights to obtaining releases from other people whose expertise or comments you might include in your products. You may want someday to sell your business, assign the published assets, license your marketing system or simply prevent someone else from using your product name and creating confusion in the marketplace.
A few hours spent protecting these assets is critical.
For info-marketers, authors, entrepreneurs and others who benefit from being published or publicized, the name of any product lines or publication series you might create should be officially registered as your trademark, assuming that the name is eligible to be trademarked. At the very least, you should add the trademark (TM) symbol to the name of your products, then put in fine print on your copyright page the words “[Title of Product] is a trademark of [your name or other owner of the trademark].”
Of course, you should always consult your own attorney before undertaking any legal matter. I can’t ethically or legally advise you on legal matters. But I do want to save you some time and money by directing you to information and resources you can use.
The first place to visit for information on trademarking your brand is the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov) where you can perform searches of pending and registered trademarks.
Anytime you register a trademark you have in mind, you and your attorney should conduct an extensive search of the mark in use before filing your trademark application and paying a lot of money. Those searches can run several hundreds dollars per name. But one of the easiest ways to save money in this process is to look up your proposed trademark first at the USPTO website, so you know whether you have a fighting chance of getting it.
When you log on to www.uspto.gov, look for the word “Trademarks” at the left-hand side of the home page, then click on the “Search” button just below it. You’ll jump over to the next page which is the main search page for the Trademark Electronic Search System (or TESS for short). There you can start your search.
Click on the very first search form option, which is New User Form Search (Basic). If you have an actual tradename in mind, you can simply type that word or phrase into the search window and see if any pre-existing marks exist in the TESS system. If you put your phrase in quotation marks, the system will search for that exact combination of words. If you think there may be trademarks that are similar to yours, you can type in just one of the words and see what comes up.
Here’s what you’ll be looking for: A results page that says, “Sorry, no results were returned for your query.” That’s a good sign because it means your proposed trademark has not been registered or applied for by someone else. But, to be safe, you should always do the search again without the quotation marks to see what IS registered that might be similar. In many cases, your proposed trademark might be so similar to an existing mark that your application will not be approved.
You’ll also need to apply in specific classes of commerce where you are using the trademark or plan to use the mark.
Most writers who are building a freelance business or publishing brand will want to register their trademark in the following classes of commerce:
Class 9 -- Recorded material including audio, video, software, etc.
Class 16 -- Printed materials including books, newsletters and manuals
Class 35 -- Consulting, business management and professional services
Class 41 -- Education and training including live workshops, seminars and more
To obtain registration of a trademark (and the ability to use to R-circle symbol after your trademark, the mark must actually be in use in commerce at the time you apply for registration. If you’re just thinking about a new product line or name, you can file an “Intent to Use” application, then convert it to an “Actual Use” application once you can prove you are indeed using it in commerce.
A good intellectual property attorney can tell you more.
What if you simply want to protect your written material and spoken words from other people who might illegally copy it and include it their work? The United States Library of Congress will register your copyright on virtually any kind of written, recorded, visual or other work you produce.
Their website www.copyright.gov has so much good information, you should really take a look.
But one thing you should know is that any work you create actually carries a copyright the minute you write it and produce it in a tangible form – that means, printing it, distributing it, publishing it, recording it. However, even though the copyright is established when you produce it, you still need to register the work with the Library of Congress in order to enjoy expanded protection of the copyright.
It costs less than $50 to register copyright on each work, plus you have to submit two copies of the work. It’s always a good idea to add a copyright page to your written materials (or print on the label of any CD) a line that reads:
© 2009 Your Name
In other words, type out the C-circle symbol, followed by the year you produced the work, followed by the owner of the copyright (you, your company, two co-authors, etc.).
RELEASES FROM GUEST EXPERTS AND INTERVIEWEES
Sometimes, you merely want to protect the information you’ve acquired from someone else to include in your product.
If you have a guest expert on your conference call series and you want to record that series and sell the recordings later, have the guest sign a release that allows you to use their name and voice for commercial purposes.
If you want to use a testimonial or endorsement from someone important in your advertising and marketing efforts, be sure to have them sign a release stating they said those words and are allowing you to use them for commercial purposes. Some people will sign this release, some won’t. But it’s always good to have this on file even years later -- especially if the testimonial is so powerful that you’re still using it.
If your business is based outside the United States, check with your own national authorities or a local legal expert about securing trademarks, copyrights and releases.
Janet Switzer is the marketing strategist behind some of the best known celebrity authors in the world: Jack Canfield of The Secret and Chicken Soup for the Soul, One Minute Millionaire author Mark Victor Hansen, personal finance guru David Bach, motivational speaker Les Brown and others. Subscribe to her FREE series of info-marketing special reports here.
* DISCLAIMER: Janet Switzer is not an attorney and is not dispensing legal advice. No information contained herein should be construed as legal advice being given by a legal professional, nor should it be construed as particularly appropriate for your specific circumstances. Additionally, since the above material was written, changes to the law may have occurred. Please consult your own attorney before embarking on any activity that affects your legal rights and obligations.