New entrepreneurs make one big mistake when developing their brand: they save trademarking until the last step.
Over 650,000 patent applications were filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2021, a slight decrease from 653,311 the previous year. However, with thousands of trademark litigations filed yearly, novice business owners should prioritize trademarking logos and wording to avoid a hefty fine.
Rosezena Pierce, founder and CEO of RJ Pierce Law Group, has often seen entrepreneurs make this costly mistake. With over ten years of experience and over 3,200 trademarks filed, she and her team help business owners protect their brands. Her portfolio includes celebrities such as Twista and Sierra Gates. Additionally, the firm is ranked among the top 50 trademark firms in the country.
“The biggest misconception is that you can wait to do it later,” Pierce explains. “People think they have to do all of this other stuff first. Then trademarking is something they can revisit later when that is the total opposite. I always ask people, ‘Will you build a house on land you don’t own?’ A lot of times, people think, ‘Oh, I have to get my LLC first. I have to get my bank account and EIN number. I must get my product packaging or my marketing material. And then I have to make some money. Then I will think about the trademark.’
Here’s the thing, you can do all of that first. But if somebody follows that name you just attached to that LLC, that bank account, or those products, packaging, or marketing material, they hit you with a cease and desist letter. Now they demand that you turn over that product packaging or the marketing material. You just possibly wasted the money, time and resources you invested in building a new brand.”
When Pierce started law school, she already had two kids, and during her last semester, she gave birth to a baby girl. She had the opportunity to stay home and study for the bar, which made her realize, she liked being home with her children. At the time, she met a mentor who taught her how to start her own law practice; he helped her see how she could represent the underserved—small business owners.
Pierce marketed her services on social media and attended business networking events. Through connections, she met managers, assistants and friends of celebrities who helped her grow the entertainment vertical of her firm. Over the years, Pierce has shifted from working with clients to being the face of the company through speaking engagements and educational workshops.
“It was time for me to think about the growth of the firm,” Pierce smiles. “I shifted my mindset to say, ‘Ok, it’s time to grow this firm. I cannot be in the day-to-day. I have to pull myself out of it and have a team of leaders.”
Pierce emphasizes the importance of creating a distinctive name when building a brand or product; the more unique it is, the better the chance of receiving the trademark. In addition, using original wording will deter competitors from using the same thing; when descriptive terms are used, there’s a higher probability that other people in the same industry will also use the same detailed wording.
Many new business owners think they are legally protected if they add a trademark symbol to their brand. However, the opposite is true. All the symbol does is show that you were using it, and most likely in the application process. It’s not until the USPTO approves the application and issues the registered trademark that a name or logo is legally protected.
As Pierce continues to expand her firm and transition as a leader, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Make sure you’re comfortable with your decision. Take time to research and navigate the new vertical you are pivoting into.
- Create a different platform of who you want to be that will attract future clients or employers.
- Be confident in your decision. Speak with authority when sharing your next move—that generates buy-in.
“I believe there are so many entrepreneurs who are trying to become leaders and CEOs,” Pierce concludes. “I believe, as good leaders, we understand we don’t need to be the smartest people in the room; we need to hire the experts.”