Make It Legal – Trademark Your Clothing Line Name – NOW

February 27, 2012 by  Filed under: Branding 

This is a painful post. I hate it. 3 years later writing about it still brings a good deal of pain. These are the types of moments I eluded to earlier when talking about “learning from your mistakes”. In fact, this simple mistake turned out to be a $10,000 mistake that could have been prevented with a $500-800 investment.

It was there, then it wasn’t

Without getting too detailed, here’s the gist of it; We had locked up a name and a logo that we knew was the perfect match for our brand. Our image was that of a cross between “J.crew” and “urban outfitters”. We wanted to target that customer that fell somewhere in-between the two major labels. We had our designer mock us up a sweet turtle as our logo (actually, 10-15 turtles before settling on one). We (he) designed a line of 15-20 products. T-shirts, track jackets, polos and sweatshirts were all made up featuring our star turtle in some form. Some had him in the artwork, some had him embroidered on, and every single peace featured our name either in the interior label sewn in or somewhere in the design. There was no missing it. We then printed up and produced stickers, hang-tags, and tissue paper (for the shipping) featuring the logo and name. Add this to the hundreds of pieces of apparel produced, and we were quickly $8k in. It gets better though.

Our good friend and PR rep managed to secure us a spot in an exclusive weekend event that would give us the opportunity to pitch our product and brand to editors from top media publications like Lucky, Mens Fitness, Real Simple and more. The best part? We would have exclusive access to them for 4-6 hours as we hosted a New England clambake lunch with the understanding they would in turn be giving us their undivided attention. The event went swimmingly. We ate, we played wiffle-ball and we gave a preview of our product and our brand story; the editors had some great compliments and some very constructive criticism. We left there excited and renewed, ready to tackle the world and show off our brand.

Now we just needed to trademark the brand name and logo.

Wait, did you assume that was done? You’d be forgiven for thinking the “we locked up a name” quote meant “we trademarked a name”. The truth of the matter is we heavily researched our name on google and on the US Trademark Website (it was available), but then decided the investment to secure our name and image could wait while we invested in the important stuff. Like tissue paper. And Lobster. And hang tags. It all sounds kind of silly now.

We got back from the event and immediately began the due diligence of trademarking our name, only to find that it had been secured 1 month earlier. By a woman in Texas, who of course was beginning a clothing line.

She was sorry to hear about the confusion and yes, she would gladly sell it back to us. For $25,000.

Needless to say she still owns the name and we don’t. We went through a 3-6 month rebranding process where we painfully sorted through list after list of new names and logos, finely deciding on one that is a thousand times better than what we started with. In fact, I’m not so sure our first choice wouldn’t have held us back. But that’s besides the point. We were penny-wise and pound-foolish. We cost ourselves a solid amount of heartache and hell of a lot of money (for a young startup) all in the name of saving a few bucks.

Sure, we ended up better off in the end, but I wouldn’t suggest our path. There is an easier way.

Pick a name. Find a logo. Make sure it’s available, and then lock it down. If you Google “trademark a business name” you’ll come across hundreds of services offering to help you out. I won’t suggest one over the other, but do some research and pick one that has a solid reputation and will be patient with you through the process.

We used Trademark Express and they are currently running a $400 comprehensive service that will research and file your name for you. That beats the $10k fee we paid.

We paid big time by delaying the trademarking process; don’t do the same.

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