In the increasingly competitive HVAC installation and repair market, contractors and small business owners are always searching for a way to gain an edge on their rivals. From plastering your logo on the side of your van to advertising your business on an electronic billboard, there are many ways to develop your brand, creating awareness and driving sales.
But, how can you make sure you’re keeping your brand safe at the same time you’re doing everything possible to promote it? One of the best ways is by applying for and receiving a federal trademark registration for your HVAC company’s name. Let’s take a closer look at what HVAC contractors need to know about the trademark process and the impact it can have on your business.
WHAT’S A TRADEMARK?
A trademark is a word, name, or symbol that represents a product or service offering granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When your business receives a federal trademark registration, the USPTO is giving you the presumption of federal validity of that particular mark.
Certainly, big HVAC companies that do business across the U.S. need trademarks, but do small- and mid-sized HVAC contractors need trademarks too? The answer is yes. Even your one-location HVAC business can benefit from federal trademark protection. Here’s why ...
Imagine your small HVAC service company, Tropicool HVAC has been in business for five years. Business is going gangbusters — you have droves of repeat customers, referral business is steady, and your online reviews are positive. Everything is going great until you receive an online inquiry asking if you’re related to Tropic Cool Heating & Air, which just opened in a neighboring state.
While the other HVAC contractor doesn’t have the exact same name as yours, their name is similar enough that it’s easy to see how current or potential customers could inadvertently do business with Tropic Cool when they intended to do business with you, Tropicool. And just think about what would happen if the local news reported Tropic Cool Heating & Air was being accused of repeatedly overcharging elderly customers, or a video went viral on social media showing a Tropic Cool Heating & Air employee kicking a customer’s dog during an installation. It’s easy to see how you could get caught up in the middle and possibly even lose customers because of it.
A LEGAL LEG TO STAND ON
The way your business would handle the situation just described depends on if you own the federal trademark to the Tropicool HVAC name. If you do, you have the legal right and obligation to ensure other HVAC businesses don’t infringe on your name by using it — or any other name that is similar enough as to confuse potential customers. In this situation, you would work with your attorney to reach out to Tropic Cool Heating & Air with a cease and desist letter, demanding a name change. However, if you were operating your HVAC business without a trademark on your name, your path forward would be more challenging. You could request that Tropic Cool Heating & Air change its name, but your legal case may be tenuous. Suffice it to say, a federal trademark registration is an investment in your business and its future.
TRADEMARK YOUR NAME FIRST
If your budget is large enough, work with your attorney to file trademark applications for your business name and logo simultaneously. But if money is tight, opt to file for trademark protection on your name before your logo.
By doing this, you will be ensuring you’ll receive the broadest level of protection available on your business’s name.
The reasoning behind this is straightforward: If you were to file for trademark protection only on your logo, you would receive protection on your business name only as it appears within the graphic context of your logo — meaning if you applied for trademark protection for Tropicool HVAC written in a 14-point cornflower blue Corsiva font, you would have to always use that logo to keep your federal trademark registration.
If you created a new logo seven months down the road, your federal registration would not apply to that use, and your business name would likely lose the benefits of federal registration.
To maintain and grow your HVAC business, trademarks offer valuable brand protection that keeps you from risking all of your hard work. Even small- and mid-sized HVAC contractors can benefit from federal trademark registration as a way to prevent customer confusion and protect the company’s reputation. For businesses with budget limitations, register to protect your business name first, then brand elements like your logo. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be helping to set up your HVAC business for continued growth and success.
Publicaiton date: 1/29/2018