Most of you know where I’ve been coming from in these past 12 years as a contributing editor for PM. My goal is to help contractors become astute businesspersons and marketers. I have spent thousands of hours in phone conversations with all that have called, free of charge. I’ve returned many calls at my own expense. And I don’t receive any money from PM for my contributions. Money is not what motivates me.
Nonetheless, there is a limit to anyone’s generosity, and that is why I’ve been cracking down against those who pirate my materials, copyrights and trademarks without permission or compensation.
For instance, over the past several years it has been brought to my attention that Blau Plumbing’s “plumber in the tub” registered logo has been used by a number of contractors around the country. Some do so with permission, by paying me a license fee. Others, however, have done so without asking. Charitably, I will say it’s because they don’t know any better. I have had the unpleasant experience of challenging infringers to stop doing this. I’m not looking to sue people. My role is to help my fellow contractors, not hurt them. Nor do I like to see my hard-earned bucks or theirs going in lawyer’s pockets. Legal action, however, is a last resort.
Not only our logo, but also our “valve tag” design and some other Blau proprietary items have been adapted by others for their own profitable use. Legality aside, this strikes me as a low class thing to do. The stakes are too high for me not to act. That’s because federal law holds that if a company or person doesn’t protect his copyrights and trademarks interest by pursuing infringers, then the company could lose its exclusive rights to the mark. So I’ve been forced to overcome my natural inclination to look the other way.
How To Register: Anyway, the purpose of this column is not to grind my own ax. It’s a good opportunity to explain some of the intricacies of copyrights and trademarks. Some of you have your own business materials that are worth protecting.
Federal registration is the best way to secure copyrights and trademarks for protection. Some states provide registration, but this is not as comprehensive. When a conflict arises, federal registration usually prevails over the states’.
The registration process involves a thorough search to determine if your mark is already in use of may be pending. This is important to protect yourself against infringers. Imagine spending countless dollars for stationery, signs and other marketing materials, only to find out that someone else has your mark and you get accused of infringing.
Have the application prepared by an attorney experienced in patent law. My “legal beagle” tells me it would cost approximately $1,500 to handle the process, including patent office fees, a search of federal and state archives and attorney fees. The cost, of course, will vary.
Very Important: In order to obtain federal registration for a mark, the user must either be currently using the mark or intends to use it in the near future. After the application is made to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), I’m told it might take anywhere from four to nine months for the PTO to act upon the application. Your mark is then published in the Official Gazette of the PTO, where it may been seen and challenged. If someone sees your mark and feels it conflicts with theirs, they must then file papers with the PTO opposing your mark. This would delay and possibly prevent you from obtaining your mark. Frequently, the grounds for opposition may be challenged as well.