How to Research Trademarks (And Why You Should Care)
Did you know the term “onesie” is trademarked? Yep, me neither. I’ve learned the hard way throughout the years that being a creator can lead to some legal misunderstandings. When I first started out with The Busy Bee, I was just a little Etsy shop selling baby apparel and home goods (my, how things have changed!).
Then, out of the blue, I got an email from Gerber. Yup—the sweet, chubby-cheeked baby himself sent me a personal email (If only it were that beautiful). Instead, Gerber served me a cease and desist because my baby apparel had the term “onesie” in the title. The message read that if I didn’t take down or change the name of my one piece apparel items, they’d ensure my entire shop was shut down. I slammed my computer shut in anger when I saw that. Who the ham knows that the term “onesie” is trademarked, and why is Gerber going after ME, a little shop that’s undoubtedly not hurting any of their sales.
After my frustration subsided and I went through every affected item in my shop, I wanted to make sure that this didn’t happen again. I mean, there’s a lot of work that goes into creating physical items for sale and listing them in the shop!
So, I made sure I had my legal ducks in a row. I don’t want to be sued, people. Not being a lawyer, I invested in some contracts + templates from Christina Scalera*, my favorite attorney for creatives. She has literally everything you need to make your business ship shape legally. AND, she co-hosts a podcast called “The Creative Empire,” where she has an entire episode on Trademarks.
Then, I got to protecting myself for the future.
I learned that doing a basic word search on the USPTO website is a great start. This isn’t by any means a surefire way to know with 100% certainty that a trademark isn’t taken, but it can definitely rule out if it IS taken. If it is taken, check what category it’s trademarked under.
For example, if you want the term “Snuggle Butt” trademarked for pillows/home goods and it’s trademarked for clothing/apparel, you’re in the clear.
Not sure where to start? Here are my 3 tips for protecting yourself:
1. Register to be an LLC — this is SUPER easy to do (it’s all online) and the average cost is about $125 (varied by state). Why is an LLC important? It protects your personal assets from debts incurred by your business. Basically, if you’re sued and creditors are trying t take all that you own (your personal assets), they can’t. It’s like a little business shield against your life falling apart. $125 well spent. For more info on LLCs, here’s the rundown.
2. Get your branding squared away — I’m a firm believer in “something is better than nothing” so you don’t necessarily need to invest money in a professional logo + brand right off the bat (although if you’re looking to do that, I LOVE all the work from Happenstance Studio and The Lum Collective). Setting up a simple color scheme from a color generator and choosing 2 fonts to use is a great start to establish continuity as you’re building up the rest of your business. On top of protecting yourself, this starts to bring your whole business concept together and create consistency—a total win/win!
3. Pick a business name that lasts — Choose something that represents you and your services or products and that you’re proud to share. Also, make sure that the name can GROW with your business. When I started out, I wasn’t offering custom Squarespace Websites, but the name gave me the flexibility to grow with me as my business grew. Finally, make sure the name isn’t already trademarked!
Don’t be afraid to take risks
I’m pretty sure every business has had situations like these. Cease and desists are threatening, but not detrimental if you abide by them. Don’t be afraid to take risks, do your research and grow your business!
* DISCLAIMER: The link indicated with an asterisk is an affiliate link. However, I promise you babe, I'd recommend this business regardless of an affiliate link or not!