Your business name is important — but what’s the difference between a company name and…
Brand Protection Best Practices for Australian Startups
Investing in your brand means securing it from any potential damage both now and as your business grows. Here are the best brand protection strategies for new startups in Australia.
Startup founders are often so enthusiastic and passionate about their startup that they overlook critical but mundane tasks, such as engaging in professional legal advice regarding brand protection.
Failing to ensure that your brand is adequately legally protected can cause significant issues to develop as your startup grows and scales. In this article, we’ll explore a number of key steps you can take to ensure that the brand identity of your startup is protected as soon as possible.
Register Trade Marks
One of the first and most important steps an entrepreneur or startup founder should take when launching a new startup is to trademark both a brand name and a brand logo. It’s critical for entrepreneurs to carefully consider the long-term goals of their business in order to ensure that any trade mark applications they make are correct from the first time they apply.
An entrepreneur or startup founder who registers a trade mark receives the exclusive right to use the mark for the specific goods or service their business delivers. The trade mark registration process is highly important, as it provides founders and entrepreneurs with the ability to determine whether any other similar logos or brand names are already registered.
If a founder or entrepreneur discovered through the trade mark registration process that a similar brand name or logo already exists, they are able to reassess their branding choices and make changes before they establish a brand reputation.
It’s important to note that discovering that trade marks or logos similar to those used by your business are already in use is not fatal — it’s possible for a business to continue with the trade mark registration process depending on the distinctiveness of a mark and the business category they are registering the trade mark in. The likelihood of registering a trade mark increase if a similar, already-registered trade mark delivers an entirely different product or service.
Register a Business Name and Domain Name
Business names and domain names are not strictly related to trade marks, but are important factors to consider. A new business should operate with a relevant registered business name and domain name — the process of securing a business name or domain name operates on a “first-in, best dressed” model, so it’s important to take care of this factor quickly.
Similarly to trade marks, it’s important to determine as soon as possible whether or not a business name or domain name is available for registration — especially before investing in marketing capital, web development, or log design.
After an entrepreneur or startup founder secures a domain name, the next step typically involves building a website using a brand name and logo. It’s important to note that using a brand name and logo on a website without registering a trade mark first broadcasts your branding online with no protection, which could potentially allow other individuals to trade mark branding concepts before you.
This scenario often results in lengthy legal disputes and can cost new startups or entrepreneurs a significant amount of capital in legal fees to resolve, so it’s critical to take care of trade mark applications as soon as possible.
Compose & Sign Employment Agreements
A startup founder or entrepreneur must ensure that they have an employment agreement in place as soon as they begin to employ staff. This not only ensures businesses are compliant and ensures the business is protected from employment liabilities but can also impact the brand.
Employees within new businesses or startups typically have access to a significantly larger amount of core business information than employees in a large organization. This information can include sensitive factors such as:
● Trade secrets
● Supply chain details
● Marketing strategies
● Potential patents
● Future trade mark applications
A business or startup that operates without a well-drafted employment agreement may be negatively impacted by opportunistic employees who may exploit the information they have access to and exploit it. An employee agreement minimizes the risk of an employee stealing intellectual property rights or trade secrets, or even attempt to trade mark a brand name or log before the founder is able to.
Establishing explicit protectins in an employment agreement protects a brand from these scenarios and functions as a deterrent for potentially opportunistic employees. It’s important to ensure that your business has established an employment contract prior to hiring employees — introducing an employment agreement after hiring employees can often cause friction between founders and employees.
IP Assignment Agreement
The intellectual property, or IP, of a startup is critical to its value. Startup founders often own the IP of their startup personally in early stages. It’s important, however, to ensure that any intellectual property is assigned to the same company an investor is investing in.
To achieve this, an IP assignment agreement is necessary, which transfers the ownership of the intellectual property to the company. Some startups may also require an IP assignment agreement if they use external developers without a developer agreement, or if they incorporate a holding company that will hold the assets of the operating company.
Startup founders and entrepreneurs should adopt a multifaceted strategy with regard to brand protection, leveraging trade marks, domain and business name registration, terms and conditions, and employment contracts as soon as possible to minimize any damage to brand collateral.
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Stuart Reynolds is the founder of Fullstack Advisory, an award-winning accounting firm for businesses leading the future. He is a 3rd generation accountant who specialises in tech companies, crypto and entrepreneurs.