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Why would a person go through the trouble of learning about trademarks? Because you really don’t have a choice. Your business needs to have a name. Once you start selling anything under any name or symbol you have a trademark. So if you own a business, you’re basically stuck with trademarks. Here is the “official” definition of a trademark:

A “trademark” is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others.

Yawn. In non-lawyer, human language this means that pretty much anything that is used to identify “who” is selling something can be a trademark. That can be a word (“Apple”), letters (“UPS”), a symbol (), sounds (NBC chimes), colors (Owens Corning’s pink insulation), and shapes (Coke bottle).

At bare minimum, if you own a business, your business has a name, and that name is a trademark. You probably tell people about your business and you may even spend money advertising. If you are lucky, other people talk about your business. You buy business cards, and signs, and you probably have a website with your business name on it. The point here is that you will likely spend money promoting your business using its business name. If you don’t go out of business you will have a lot of name recognition associated with your business. That name recognition is called “goodwill” and it comprises a great deal of the value of your business.

Here’s what we mean: Shirts with an alligator on them cost $98. Shirts without an alligator on them cost $3. So, if you tried to make alligator shirts Lacoste would get very angry with you. The Lacoste’s alligator trademark is worth a lot of money because it is the embodiment of the company. That little alligator is a container that holds the value of Lacoste’s 82-year reputation, every customer’s opinion of the company, and every advertising dollar that Lacoste has spent promoting the brand. That alligator is worth billions of dollars. Here are the values of a few other trademarks:

Your trademark will probably not be worth billions of dollars, but it will comprise a considerable portion of the worth of your company. You should try to not screw up your trademark.

A strong trademark that is well-protected can add a lot of value to your business and make your business more recognizable in the marketplace. A weak trademark can devalue your business and hurt your competitive position. If you pick a really bad trademark (like one that is already being used by someone else) you may be forced to change your name, which is at bare minimum, a major pain in the ass. In some cases, the financial burden of a rebrand along with the lost goodwill is too much for a business to bear. If you are forced to defend your use of a trademark in court you will incur massive legal fees and if you lose, you may end up paying damages on top of those fees.

You should care about trademarks.