Whenever I take on a new client, the first thing I usually do is go through my whole presentation on brand protection. It takes a couple of minutes, and there are always a lot of questions. But the best part comes when I tell my new client that what I just explained was only for the American market. The jaws usually drop when I launch into the international brand protection presentation.
I always remind customers that I did not make international brand protection complicated; that is just the way it is. I travel the world a lot, and I constantly see mutated versions of the Coca-Cola logo being used by local companies. Eventually, the Coca-Cola people get around to protecting their brand. But it takes time.
So how does an individual such as myself go about protecting the brands of my clients internationally? It isn’t easy, but it is definitely worth it.
Step One – Run An International Trademark Search
It doesn’t matter how long your company has been in business in the United States – there still could be some other company in some other country using your logo. In most cases, it is just a coincidence. But if you try to trademark a logo that someone else is using, you will definitely not succeed.
You need to have a professional, like me, do a comprehensive, worldwide international trademark search to make sure that your brand is clear to be used overseas.
Step Two – Identify Your Target Markets
You would not believe how incredibly expensive trademarking your brand all over the world can be. Each country has its own rules and its own costs, and it just gets ugly after a while.
I always tell my clients to narrow down the markets that they want to attack first and we can start from there. Trust me: Unless you are Nike, you do not want to try and trademark your brand all over the world – at least not right away.
Step Three – Do A Culture Check
Now that you know what countries you are targeting, you can do a culture check to make sure that your company brand does not have an unintended meaning in some other country. For example, I remember spending a great deal of time trying to convince a company director to remove the word “pain” from his brand name because “pain” means “bread” in French.
You will also want to make sure that your logo does not depict something unacceptable in other cultures as well. I have stories to tell about that, but I’ll save those for another time.
Step Four – Make Sure You Own Your Trademark In The United States
When I was first starting out in trademarks a long time ago, I remember putting together this impressive international branding campaign for a client. I covered all of my international bases and set out to apply for trademarks in other countries. The first thing I had to show when applying for international trademarks was that my customer owned his trademark in the United States. He did not, and that started a whole series of events that nearly stopped my career before it got started.
Once you have your international markets all lined up, you will want to make sure that you are registered at home first. Without proof of trademark in the United States, getting an international trademark is almost impossible.
Step Five – Apply For Your Trademarks
Not every country requires you to have a separate trademark to be protected within their borders. To some countries, your United States trademark is good enough.
But for the others, you will want to get your applications for trademarks in before you start doing business. Secure your brand, and then you can unleash the international sales team on your target market.
This five-step method has been developed over years of trial and error. Just remember that if you do not protect your brand internationally, then you could wind up losing a lot of money to competitors who would rather steal your hard work than do their own.
Photo Credit: Nan Palmero