by Jo Belasco, Esq.
Business reputation is important in the horse world. It can literally make or break a business. One of the best ways to protect that reputation is by registering your equestrian trademark. Before I go into the legal discussion, I want to share a story about an equine business that could have benefitted from trademark protection.
A Case of Stolen (Brand) Identity
I once knew someone – we’ll call her Sally – who moved cross country after riding with a trainer – we’ll call her Mary – for years in Florida. Sally started to search for a new riding horse in her new home. She came across a horse in which she was interested on a website for a local trainer. She was shocked at what she found. On the main page of the website was the logo for Mary’s barn! It was flipped, as if appearing in a mirror, but it was clearly the same logo. Sally knew that Mary’s brother had hand drawn the logo several years before. She immediately contacted Mary to tell her about the stolen logo. Mary was a highly successful trainer, so she said she wasn’t worried about it. She said that no one would confuse her training services with the trainer who had stolen the logo. Besides, Mary lived all the way across the country. Sally never pursued the horse she found that led her to the website. She figured if that trainer would steal a logo, what else would she do that was dishonest.
Mary didn’t think there was a problem with the other trainer using her logo because Mary was a higher-level and more famous trainer, plus she lived across the country. But such thinking can leave an equine professional open to problems. What if Mary decided she wanted to expand her training to that area? What if people looking online simply assumed that Mary and the trainer who stole her logo were somehow affiliated and that trainer engaged in deceptive practices? Or was a bad trainer? Or abused the horses under her care? Mary might be losing clients and gaining a bad reputation without even knowing it.
What is a Trademark?
Mary could have prevented these problems by registering the logo with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO defines a trademark as a “word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols, or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” If Mary had a registered trademark for her logo, then she could have had an attorney force the trainer to take it off her website, either through a cease-and-desist letter or a lawsuit.
One of the main reasons for registering a trademark harkens back to horses and livestock. It relates to branding. You may have heard that you should brand your company. Branding your company is a way of identifying your business and setting you apart from your competition. Registering a trademark is an important part of branding. Why? Because one of the main issues the USPTO considers when determining if a trademark should be granted is whether it creates confusion in the marketplace. Let’s say you want to create a company that provides packages of natural supplements to horse owners. And you want to call it SmartyPak. Your chances of getting that trademark approved are slim to none Why? Because SmartPak, the supplement company, already has that name trademarked. Allowing for these two similar trademarks for products in the horse world would cause confusion in the marketplace.
What happens if I don’t trademark my equine business?
What happens if you don’t register your trademark? Well, someone else could register the same or similar name. That may not seem like a big deal but think of this. Once someone has a registered trademark, they can enforce it by issuing cease-and-desist letters to companies that are using their trademark. They can even take that company to court. Let’s say you are using a certain business name and another company trademarks it. Even if you can avoid court, you will have to rebrand. What does that mean? You have to choose a new name and reform your company with that new name. Then, you have to change all of your merchandise to the new name. Finally, you have to let your customers and clients know. It can be a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor, as you might well imagine.
Save yourself the time, money, and headache. Call a trademark attorney to help you protect your brand.