Traditionally businesses were able to maintain trade and operational secrets due to the minimal exposure their brands received. The era of digital technology, however, seeks to revolutionize this business model by exposing most of these brand secrets and products to a broader audience. The situation is especially dire for e-commerce businesses.
The fact that your business operates solely online means that they face more exposure compared to the rest of the industry players. There is, therefore, a need for these online ventures to educate themselves about the importance of ecommerce trademarks and ecommerce copyrights. Here is everything an online entrepreneur needs to know about the digital brand and associated products ownership.
What Can Be Copyrighted Or Trademarked
When it comes to e-commerce and digital enterprises, trademark refers to intellectual properties originally developed and used by your business while copyrights protect any authorship projects owned by your company. But what elements of these materials can you register for trademarks and copyright?
- E-commerce tools, search engines, and any other internet tools that your brand relies on for continued sustainability.
- Web design and website content, including web pages and the authorship materials contained therein such as written content, audio, and videos as well as graphic content.
- Software: You can also copyright any software and unique HTML codes used in the development of your website.
- Business, domain, and product names or logos, as well as any other product signs used in your product, can also be protected by trademarks.
- Secret brand products and materials like algorithms, databases, user manual, and product descriptions and well as production techniques can also be copyrighted and covered by the trade secret laws. However, you must prove that your e-commerce brands have taken reasonable measures to keep this confidential information away from the public scrutiny.
How To Register A Trademark
E-commerce store owners can file and register for trademarks and copyrights for their intellectual properties online. It is, however, imperative that you first check whether the material you want to register conforms to the laid out guidelines on ecommerce trademarks registration to avoid rejection.
How Do You Know If You Can Register A Trademark?
Before filing a registration request for a brand name, slogan or other intellectual properties, perform an internet sweep to ensure that it isn’t registered by any other company in the same industry. Ensure that your slogan or name isn’t too generic or just descriptive in a manner likely to confuse the market. For instance, you cannot trademark the name MUSIC for your online music store or ONLINE BUSINESS, for your general e-commerce store.
Similarly, your proposed material shouldn’t seem as tightly matching an already registered trademark. For instance, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will reject any attempt to register an M-Soft trademark for a software company as it could be easily confused with Microsoft. Therefore, first make use of the search engines in finding out whether there are registered trademarks similar to yours.
After coming up with an eligible trademark, add a trademark symbol (™) to the material as this helps inform other businesses that the registration details of the product. The same goes for slogans and other website content where you can include the copyright (©) symbol. Either of these symbols is deemed enough to protect your online store’s intellectual property.
Know Who Owns Your Intellectual Property Rights
Did you that you could own an e-commerce website with all the administrative duties as well as the content therein but not its IP rights? This confusion mainly arises in cases where you pay a developer to create your e-commerce website. Intellectual property experts advise that you carefully go through the contractual agreement for website design and development before signing it or engaging a developer.
While most developers gladly transfer all ownership rights to the site owner after pay, some independent contractors include a particular clause in the agreement terms indicating that they own the copyrights for their creations. Therefore, be wary where the contractor doesn’t offer a contract expressly pointing out to the transfer of ownership rights.
Where they don’t have a ready contract, engage a civil attorney for help in formulating one. The minimal legal fees involved in the process can’t compare to possible battles that may ensure in future where either the contractor lays claims to your e-commerce website or duplicates your model and sells to a competitor.
Law Recognizes Both Registered And Unregistered Marks
What happens when a conflict of interest for your ecommerce copyrights arises? If someone brought up an infringement case against your e-commerce business, the court first considers registration of the property. Nonetheless, the law isn’t blind to unregistered but secured trademarks.
In cases where more than two companies lay claim to the same trademark, the first brand to use the trademark or copyright symbols to their product names or slogans carries the day. There is, therefore, the need to not only add the emblem to your copyrighted materials but also add timestamps, the year of adoption to a trademark, whether registered or unregistered.
There are other instances when e-commerce trademarks and copyright protections can be lost. For instance, if you abandon your trademark by way of stopping using a slogan or displaying the copyright symbol alongside the content for a long time, your e-commerce business may be deemed to have forfeited the mark in which case you lose its protection.
You will also lose your ecommerce copyrights if you are deemed to have used a confusing or generic word or slogan. In the above example of MUSIC, if you used it as an unregistered trademark, you will lose the rights to it if challenged by another business as it is considered a generic term. The trademark and copyright guidelines explicitly state that a business cannot own a generic term cannot, especially when used as its sole name.
Trademark protection also doesn’t apply to another ecommerce store operating in an entirely different industry from you and dealing with different products or services. Trademark ownership guidelines state that protection rights are only limited to your goods and services. In effect, if you copyrighted an online business THE TREAT dealing with beauty products and another person opened THE TREAT hotel, your protection will be limited to the products and services you offer.
How To Protect Your Copyrights And Trademarks
Ecommerce copyright and trademarks protection should be every online entrepreneur’s fulltime job. The idea of guarding a trademark should start as soon as you decide to set up the e-commerce store. Start this process by first researching widely and conduct a trademark search for your domain name and all other intellectual properties to be included on your websites like logos and photographs.
Most importantly, consider registering your unique intellectual properties as soon as possible. This not only helps keep copycats at bay but also comes in handy when your brand has picked and would like to file for patents and rights in a foreign country. The fact that you have a registered trademark in your home country eases the entire process.
You can also protect your trademarked businesses covered by the trade secret laws by ensuring they remain just that, confidential. Note that once any of these secrets spill over to the public domain, even accidentally, you lose the trademark protection. Consider tightening the security measures around your website and the online business environment by carefully reviewing content before posting over the internet.
Post notices and disclaimers for all your patented products and services. Additionally, ensure that all agreements you enter with both your intellectual property developers and users are strictly enforceable.
Impacts Of Using Other’s Materials On Your Site
It would be impractical to build an entire e-commerce store from scratch. At some point, you will be forced to use other people’s trademarked products and materials like third-party software and licenses, or even links to external websites. To avoid infringing on their copyrights and in avoidance of the associated liabilities, always ensure that you either use open sourced products or seek the owner’s permission before use.
Additionally, should your brand be accused of any form of infringement, remove the infringing material immediately. Remember that continued use of infringing ecommerce trademarks after being notified increases not only your liability but also compounds the damages you might be forced to pay.
The last thing you need for your startup e-commerce is infringement claims stemming from all over, starting with the website developer to externally linked authority sites. Before starting out and throughout the life of your e-commerce business, continuously educate yourself on different issues relating to copyrights and trademarks to be on the safe side while preparing for cross-border diversification.