The regular monthly meeting of the Venture Association New Jersey (www.vanj.com) was held on Tuesday, April 24, at the Hanover Marriott, Whippany, NJ. The featured speaker was Susan Goldsmith, Esq., Partner, SorinRoyerCooper, LLC (www.sorinroyercooper.com), a business oriented law firm created to meet the needs of emerging growth and middle market enterprises. Her topic was Getting and Protecting Goodwill: Trademarks and Branding for the Web-Based Entrepreneur. Her PowerPoint presentation can be found on the VANJ website at www.vanj.com.
“Trademarks are one of the four main types of Intellectual Property, or IP,” Goldsmith told the audience. “The other three are Patents, Copyrights, and Trade Secrets. Let’s look first at patents.”
In order to be patentable, an invention must be either a physical object or an idea for a new way of doing something. It must not only be new, but also useful and not obvious to someone familiar with the field in which it will be used. It also must not have been disclosed to the public prior to filing the application. The patent protects the idea behind the invention.
The good thing about patents is that they last up to 20 years from their filing date and give the inventor an opportunity to produce and market the invention, or license others to do so, in order to make a profit. The bad thing about them is that they are expensive to get and even more expensive to enforce. Nonetheless, most investors want to see patents pending if not already issued.
Copyrights, on the other hand, cover the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. They are granted to a person who creates a work in tangible form and confer the right to control copying. They also last for longer periods of time, up to 75, 90 or even 120 years.
Trade secrets are a special way of doing things or special knowledge that gives business a unique edge over competitors – often a secret recipe or way to do something. They can be lost if reverse engineered and must never be shown to anyone who has not signed a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA.
A Trademark is a unique symbol or a name for a product or service that reveals to the world the source of the product it represents. In the United States, protection lasts as long as the mark is widely used. It can be a company name like IBM or Toyota, a symbol like the Apple or Volkswagen logo, or even a short punchy phrase like “Just do it” or “Don’t leave home without it.” It can also be a reference to mythology like Pandora music website or Amazon.com retail services. The more distinctive it is, the stronger it is and the easier it is to protect.
A trademark can never be the generic name of a product or service. In fact the same trademark can be used to describe different products and services such as Delta faucets, Delta Dental and Delta Airlines. If not protected, however, it can be lost like former trademarks aspirin and nylon, both of which are now generics.
Goldsmith urged the audience to register any potential trademarks as early as possible, as this is the best public notice of a claim, and to use the TM or SM symbol early and often. Registration cannot be completed, however, and the ® symbol used until the mark is actually in use. For products, this means that the mark must appear on the goods, the container for the goods, or displays associated with the goods, and the goods must be sold or transported in commerce. For services, it means that the mark must be used or displayed in sales or advertising, and the services must be rendered in commerce.
Trademarks are adjectives and must never be used as a noun (use Kleenex® tissue, not just Kleenex) or as a verb (make a Xerox® copy, don’t Xerox it). They should also be displayed in bold or a distinctive font with the appropriate trademark notice.
Goldsmith concluded her presentation with a discussion of sources of information for trademark searches, both domestic and international, and trademark protection.
Next Meeting Elevator Pitch Olympics, May 21
At the May 21 meeting, as many as 25 entrepreneurs seeking early stage and growth capital will compete in an “Elevator Pitch Olympics” at which they will have two minutes to make their presentation, which will be judged by a panel of expert investors. The winners will have an opportunity to obtain funding from Angel and Venture Capital firms seeking investment opportunities. Space is limited, so be sure to sign up early.
Entrepreneurs wishing to exhibit and make an elevator pitch can obtain an entry form by calling Clara Stricchiola at (973) 631-5680, faxing (973) 984-9634 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations for the luncheon can be made by contacting Clara and mailing a check ($50 for members, $75 for non-members) to VANJ, 26 Main Street, 3rd Floor, Chatham, NJ 07928. Registrations must be received at least 7 business days prior to the event and must be prepaid. Reservations received after Wednesday, May 16, will be considered door registrations for a charge of $100 each.