As a health club owner, your brands are arguably your most valuable business assets. Your brands (also known as trademarks) may include your club name, logo and/or the names of key products or services. In a nutshell, your brands identify the source of your products and services, and they should distinguish you from other health clubs locally and nationally. If your club is mostly local, but you intend to expand your club's presence across the United States in the foreseeable future, it is even more imperative that you have strong brand recognition and nationwide protection. In fact, without a strong and distinctive brand, you simply fall into the bottomless pit with everyone else, thus making it difficult to generate a profitable business and market yourself because consumers cannot tell the difference between your club and the one down the street.
Whether you are in the beginning stages of starting your health club or have been in business for years, you will want to determine whether any of these five issues apply to your club, putting you at risk of losing your brand:
1. Your brand is weak. It is always best to choose a brand name that is unique and distinctive from your competitors. In other words, when it comes to your brands, do not follow the crowd or common practices in your industry. There is an unfortunate misconception that the more your brand name conveys about the nature of your products and services, the better. Brand names consisting of invented words or real words applied to unrelated services (such as Equinox for fitness and health spa services) are the most distinctive and enjoy the highest brand protection in the U.S. marketplace on a nationwide level. You can always use a catchy descriptive slogan to describe the nature of your products or services in conjunction with your brand name.
2. You did not confirm that your brand is actually available and is not infringing before using it. To ensure that your brand name does not infringe on prior third party rights, as a best practice, you or an experienced attorney should conduct in-depth searches of the U.S. Patent Trademark Office's (USPTO) database, Internet and domain name database for your club name along with any logos and product or service names to confirm its availability. You also should search for your proposed or current name, as well as similar variations, for identical and closely related products and services. Lastly, check the Secretary of State's website in your state to make sure your business name is available. The point of a thorough search is to minimize the risk of getting sued or receiving a cease and desist letter. Honestly, a lawsuit will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars more than a professional trademark search.
3. You offer and market your products and services across the United States but do not own a federal trademark registration. Although you can acquire "common law" trademark rights by using and marketing your brand locally or in certain states, you will receive the most protection from obtaining a federal trademark registration. There are many benefits to a federal registration, including but not limited to exclusive rights to the trademark, nationwide protection, and the right to use the registered trademark symbol. You can file to register a trademark with the USPTO based on your actual current use or bona fide intent to use (if you have not launched just yet).
4. You are not monitoring to ensure that no one is infringing on your brand. When you have invested your precious time and money to protect your brands, the last thing you want is someone else ripping you off and trading off your good will. Be sure to schedule online alerts (such as Google Alerts) to notify you whenever your brand names (include arguably similar variations) are being used by a third party on the Internet. In addition, you should conduct quarterly searches on the USPTO database to ensure that no one is infringing upon your rights. You also may consider investing in a trademark monitoring service, which will notify you regularly of any third party uses of your brand names.
5. You have not locked down social media. Social media has revolutionized how businesses reach out to consumers. With the increased profitability of social media and online marketing, you will want to determine the best social media platforms for your club. Essentially, the best platform is whichever best showcases your products and services to your target audience. If your club's target audience is likely to look for and discuss your products or services on social media sites, it would be a mistake not to have an engaging presence. Even if your club has not formalized its social media strategy or policy yet, you will want to register the social media usernames for your brand names before someone else does.
Radiance Harris is the founder and managing attorney of Radiance IP Law, a strictly flat fee virtual law practice specializing in trademark law, copyright law, advertising law and business contracts. After noticing a problem with the traditional law firm and billable hour model, she launched her own law practice to provide big law firm expertise and experience in a small law practice setting. She helps companies protect their brands, logos, created content and business investments in the United States, and stay out of the courtroom. You can reach her at [email protected] or www.radianceiplaw.com.