It is now well established that the value of a business lies not so much in its ‘bricks and mortar’ assets, but rather in its intangible assets. These include intellectual property rights (both registrable rights, like patents, trade marks and designs; and non-registrable rights such as product / franchise get up, trade secrets, customer lists etc ) and its brand image.
Whilst there is often a clear link between a company’s trade mark(s) and its brand, it’s important to understand that they each have a separate function. The role of a trade mark is to act as a visible ‘badge of origin’ for the company’s goods or services, to set them apart from competitors’ products or services. Trade marks can be represented as words, signs, a combination of words and signs, shapes, sounds or even scents.
A company’s brand, however, is more complex. Whilst it usually includes a business’ trade mark(s), it also includes other elements that people recognise as being unique to the company – such as its products (which can be diverse, and include both goods and services), its uniform, its marketing materials and its strategy. The major fast food franchises are great examples of successful branding that encompasses all these elements.
So whilst the two forms of intellectual asset can overlap, how do you go about protecting them? Here are three simple tips.
As your business and marketing strategies evolve with time, so too should your approach to protecting your company’s intellectual assets. Regularly review your existing trade mark portfolio to see if it is still relevant. Should it be modernised? When was the last review?
Of course, you don’t have to drop a core house mark, but protection for new variations is essential. Coca Cola® is a stand out mark that has evolved with time in both style and colour. It’s important to preserve the value of the house mark you use on your key brand products, whilst also developing a plan to protect your sub-brands. Develop policies and procedures for the use of all your trade marks and branding collateral.
If your mark(s) or branding can’t be clearly distinguished from your competitors’ then your customers won’t be able to find you. Think outside the square when developing your trade mark portfolio. You could develop new words, use metaphors, use contrary words, or develop a tag line to be used with your mark. Be aware though, that if you adopt a more extreme approach, such as using contrary words, you will need to fully engage your marketing team to sell the message behind the brand.
Start by understanding your stakeholders, both internal and external. Make sure you have buy-in, particularly from all of your internal stakeholders, starting with senior management. Give all your staff full training on your trade mark portfolio, including on how to use your trade marks. Be on the lookout for fakes and deceptively similar marks, and be prepared to defend your trade marks and branding from copying.
The above tips are only as good as the desire to implement them – so start now! Procrastinate, and your valuable intellectual assets may fall prey to dilution, which will directly impact the way your key stakeholders (i.e. your customers) see you in the market place.