Trademark protection is vital for nonprofits as most do not sell goods or services. Rather, they trade on their public goodwill and reputation to convince the public to give them money in exchange for a promise to use it to pursue their mission.
A trademark protects the brand and goodwill related to your organization and any unique goods or services it offers. You can trademark a word, phrase, slogan, symbol, design, or even sound used to identify your distinct product. Most often, nonprofits will trademark their name, program names, and logos. As your nonprofit grows it becomes increasingly more important to protect your brand through trademarking.
Trademark protection is a valuable tool because it protects your nonprofit’s proprietary intellectual property from theft and unauthorized use. Owning a trademark allows you to prevent others who might try to capitalize on the goodwill your nonprofit has built from using your intellectual property without your permission.
Trademarking intellectual property provides an extra layer of protection for your nonprofit’s reputation and goodwill because it ensures your brand identity is not being misused by nefarious copycats masquerading as your nonprofit.
Luckily, trademark protection in the United States is automatic, meaning your nonprofit does not need to register its trademarks with any state or federal agency to be afforded legal protection.
However, if you seek to operate nationwide or in multiple states it is strongly recommended to register your trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) anyway. Doing so creates a paper trail that proves the trademarks belong to your nonprofit and ensures protection over your goods and services.
Why Should Your Nonprofit Register Trademarks?
Beyond legal protection against counterfeiting, there are many reasons to care about trademarking. First, trademarks are an asset for your nonprofit. You have undoubtedly worked hard to develop a product, market it, and attract donors.
All that effort resulted in proprietary intellectual property integral to the nonprofit’s operation. Safeguarding your nonprofit’s intellectual property through trademark protection provides security for valuable company assets.
Second, trademarks can be a lucrative revenue stream for your organization. Nonprofits commonly license their intellectual property, including trademarks, to third parties in exchange for royalties or other payments.
Licensing arrangements benefit nonprofits by outsourcing production, thus reducing costs. Not only is the nonprofit earning additional revenue under a licensing agreement, but it also retains control over the use of its intellectual property, eliminating any risk of damaging the nonprofit’s reputation and goodwill.
Third, trademarking intellectual property builds brand identity. Trademarks serve as a mechanism to prevent others from using the same or similar marks as your nonprofit. A trademark minimizes copycatting and helps establish your nonprofit’s unique identity in the marketplace. Moreso, fanciful and arbitrary trademarks ensure your nonprofit’s products never get confused with competitors.
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Organizations of any size benefit from trademarking their intellectual property. State protection is typically easier to obtain while the process to register a federal trademark is long and can be complex, but the protection for a charity operating nationwide is worth the effort. Registering your trademarks enhances your nonprofit’s ability to enforce its legal rights and makes disputes significantly easier and less costly to resolve.
Kyler Mejia is a third-year law student at Arizona State University law school and legal extern with Caritas Law Group, P.C. Caritas Law Group, P.C. advises nonprofit and socially responsible businesses on corporate, tax, and fundraising regulations nationwide as well as donors with regard to major gifts. To schedule a consultation, call 602-456-0071 or email us through our contact form.