Most businesses recognize the importance of protecting their trademarks. But often that protection effort stops with obtaining federal trademark registrations. Many trademark owners fail to establish a process for identifying infringing uses of their trademarks by third parties. If a process like this is not in place, and the trademark owner waits until it is confronted with a blatant case of customer confusion, much damage may already have been done and resolving the issue may be much more difficult.
Monitoring services are available to monitor filed or published federal trademark applications. These services are automated and recurring, and are effective to identify conflicts where another entity has filed a federal application (or when its application is published for “opposition” by the US Patent and Trademark Office). But since “common law” trademark rights can be established through use – without registration – of a trademark, not every business decides that trademark registration is necessary and not all file federal trademark applications. And an intentional infringer would probably not try to register a similar trademark.
Fortunately, there are several good Internet-based approaches to monitor for conflicting trademarks. For example, Google Alerts are particularly effective in flagging references to your products or services and finding others using similar names or trademarks. Web-based searches and social media searches are also useful, as well as a manual search of the US Patent and Trademark Office database. While some of these may be automated, what is needed is a specified monitoring procedure and someone in your organization being assigned responsibility for implementing it.
The trademark monitoring procedure should be well documented and properly transitioned with changes in personnel. Conflicting marks found through that procedure should be given careful attention by your marketing management team. It is easy to let this procedure take a low priority and be overlooked, but identifying conflicts at the earliest possible time is critical.