Sunday, September 6, 2009

Who Should Own Your Small Company's Trademarks?

Let's say you own a small business - all of it - either as a sole proprietor or as the owner of all your corporation's shares. Let's also say that one or more of the products you produce, or the services you provide, has a unique name, a name so unique it can be registered as a trademark. Ever ask yourself who should own that trademark? If you haven't, you certainly should. And for a very good reason.

Let me provide one other bit of information you should be aware of. I'm not an attorney, don't pretend to be, and the idea I'm about to share with you should not be considered legal advice. It's an opinion, my personal opinion. It's also my professional opinion - as a marketing consultant - because I've seen it work. But I do suggest you check it out with your attorney.

So, What's a trademark? you ask. And why should you concern myself about who owns it? Let's take a look together, okay?

A trademark is basically any unique or distinctive name, sign or symbol that an individual, business or other legal entity uses to identify its products or services. It's what distinguish its products or services from those of other entities.

That "TM" symbol you've seen used as part of some brand and product names signifies that those names have not been formally registered as trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The same is true with the "SM" symbol you occasionally see indicating a "service mark," typically a phrase used to advertise a service rather than a product.

You've certainly seen the ® symbol used with a great many brand and product names. Often referred to as "the circle R," it signifies that the brand, product name or service mark on which it appears is a trademark that's been officially registered with the USPTO.

Got all that? Good! Then here's the answer to that question, the one about Who should own your small company's trademarks? You should, as an individual, not your sole proprietorship or that corporation in which you own 100 percent of the stock. When you officially register those trademarks or sales marks with the USPTO, the ones used by your business, list yourself as the person who owns them.

Why not list your company? Since you alone own that company, your company is an asset, something you can sell. If you own your company plus all of the registered trademarks and sale marks it uses to identify its products or services, you have multiple assets. How many obviously depends on how many ®s you've registered.

Your personal ownership of them allows you to sell your business without selling the registered trademarks and service marks it uses. They remain assets you can sell separately, or license to other companies, in return for additional income which you negotiate. That additional income is what one of my clients called "found money."

(C) 2009 Philip A. Grisolia, CBC
Phil Grisolia is a results-oriented marketing consultant serving some of the nation's oldest and largest firms, and some of its youngest and smallest - Start-Ups. An award-winning copywriter, Phil is also an accredited Certified Business Communicator (CBC), syndicated business columnist and author. To check out the varied marketing services Phil provides, visit: .

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