Ok, ok… while copyrights and trademarks aren’t as sexy as grass-fed beef and restored tractors (humor me), nonetheless they were issues that we had to deal with to arrive where we are now. I include them in this blog on the off chance that someone eventually reads this who will follow in our footsteps and start a farm, and might need some assistance cutting through the fog to figure out how they will tackle these questions. Plus this blog is all about “transparency”, so along with the exciting, you (whoever you are) get to share in the mundane as well. If we had to figure it out, then you have to hear about it!!
The legalities of using a logo and slogan were of utmost importance to us, especially as we were running our logo contest through Hatchwise. I can’t tell you how many times it came up in conversation: “What do we have to do to legally use our new logo/slogan”? Let’s start with some definitions… A trademark is a distinctive word, name, phrase, symbol, design, or other device used by a company or person to distinguish its products or services from the products or services of other companies. A copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual works. So we would potentially want to trademark our logo and copyright our blog content, just as an example for applicability’s sake.
Existing trademarks can be searched on the TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System), which is a great place to start when you are researching your logo. It would be unfortunate if you did all the work or paid an artist for a design, only to find that it was too similar to an existing trademarked image. You really have to hone your search skills though, when I searched for “farm” it came up with 38,200 records. Then when I tried “pastoral scene on a ribbon background” I got 871,972 records… great. A trademark lawyer would probably pay for themselves in this part of the process alone! Once you have a logo, you have to establish a “basis” for requesting trademark protection, meaning you have to either demonstrate its use in commerce, or at least declare an intent to use it in commerce. That’s right, you actually have to start using the logo on your products as part of the trademark approval process.
Backwards I know, but you send a picture of you using your unprotected logo in commerce (meaning you’ve already spent the money to print labels, embroider shirts, etc), along with a textual description of your logo and a hefty fee of $375 per class to the government, and they will (hopefully) send you a certificate saying that the logo is yours and only yours to use. The final kicker for us was the “per class” requirement. In their infinite
wisdom greediness, our fine bureaucracy requires a separate application, and fee, for each class of goods. So if we wanted to use our logo on packages of meat (class 29), honey jars (class 30), and screen print it on a shirt (class 25), then we would have to trademark all three uses separately, to the tune of $1,125 of course. Heaven forbid it if we had the great idea to put the logo on our vehicle or trailer (class 12), create letterhead for the farm (class 16) or advertise for school field trips (class 41)!!
Needless to say, we skipped the trademark step… if someone likes us enough to copy our logo, then we’ll try to take it as a compliment. And if we get successful enough that someone might actually care to copy us, then hopefully we’ll be financially able at that point to afford protecting our logo through trademarks. Not having your logo trademarked doesn’t keep you from using it however you want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else’s branding, so being courteous and mindful goes a long way towards keeping you from being sued! Stay tuned for more adventures in the world of copyrighting… next!