1. Get a Trademark
An essential but often overlooked step to establishing your business ownership is to register a trademark. A trademark is whatever represents your brand in the industry. It can be a logo, slogan, product name or even a color.
As noted on the Government of Canada, a registration “provides proof of ownership, provides you with licensing opportunities to maximize your trademark’s commercial potential and protects your trademark’s value.” You will need to pay a fee and renew it regularly, but it’s a relatively simple step that can save you from many headaches in the future should anything go awry.
You’re likely very familiar with Apple. Did you know that before Apple formed, there was already an Apple brand? In 1978, Apple Corp (a music company founded by the Beatles) sued Apple Computer for trademark infringement. In 1981 the case was settled, with Apple agreeing to avoid the music industry. Obviously, that didn’t happen! And as a result, there were some hefty fines and restrictions incurred.
It takes a minimum of 2 years to start a trademark process. We recommend starting right away so that no one snatches up the biz name or slogan you spent hours brainstorming! It’s sad, but true…there have been some businesses that possessed their company name years before another company decided to trademark it. The original owners lost because they couldn’t afford the high court fees necessary to prove original ownership. Don’t let this happen to you!
It’s free to search for your desired trademark. Either call or do a web search to ensure your desired name and icons are not already being used.
Getting a trademark is comparable to having car insurance. You never expect to get in a car accident, but you’re not going to risk getting into an accident without coverage.
2. Get Your Copyright
In contrast to a trademark (protection of a unique mark for your business), a copyright protects the work of the author. This can be a graphic, website, or play, for example. The copyright protection is immediate–as soon as the project has begun. Although a registration is not necessary, it’s highly recommended to ensure no one steals your work. A visible copyright symbol © is a simple way to show the world that it is your original work.
To register your copyright, check out the Government of Canada Copyright page.
3. Use Commercially Licensed Assets Only
Image by Cottonbro
There are two predominant types of licensing available—personal and commercial. A personal license allows you to use resources for personal projects only—for instance, wall décor in your home, a family invitation, etc. A commercial license is designed for business owners to use a product legally. There is typically a cost involved to support the original creator.
So should I buy out all my brand assets? While it may sound like a prudent move, it’s unnecessary and would likely cost you a good deal of time and money. For commercial assets, read the fine print on how an asset can be used. For instance, an image purchased through Adobe Stock can be used on a sale flyer but cannot be reproduced in any way for resale (i.e. you can’t include a stock image in your art and then sell it on Etsy).
4. Use Original Design Work from Ethical Sources
Photo by Kelly Sikkema
After you’ve done your due diligence in picking out a unique brand name, you’re ready to enter the design phase. The design phase includes your logo, colour palette, illustrations, and fonts handpicked to embody your brand. It is easier than you would think to fall into copyright infringement, intentional or not.
According to The Canadian Intellectual Property Office, Copyright is the exclusive legal right to produce, reproduce, publish or perform an original literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work. The creator is usually the copyright owner.”
How do I know my assets are all ethically obtained? The best way is to choose a trustworthy designer skilled in creating custom artwork for all your branding needs. Always try to pin down the origin of your fonts, photos, and illustrations. Ensure proper permissions are acquired.
Your brand assets are invaluable and worth protecting. Taking the steps needed to safeguard your business brand will require some time and money but the payoff of credibility and peace of mind makes it a worthwhile investment.