Keys to Protecting Your Brand Name

One of the first steps in setting up a new label or company is learning how to protect your brand name as well as your own name.

That was emphasized at a June 19 panel held during Los Angeles Fashion Market at the California Market Center. The panel, called “What’s in a Name? Protecting Your Name on the Label,” was moderated by Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association.

“This is one of the fundamental problems in the world of the Internet and social media, and it will become a bigger problem,” Metchek said. “It’s protection of something that is the most valuable thing you own—your brand, your name, your personality.”

In the age of influencers and Instagram followers, brands are protecting their names with legal protections that seem so stringent that a seemingly innocent or beneficial reuse of their names is sparking legal battles.

“Just the other day, one of our clients ended up tagging a photo [on social media], using the hashtag ‘#Stagecoach,’” said Syama Meagher, founder of Scaling Retail, a marketing-strategy service for retailers. “She got a cease-and-desist email saying that she had no right to use even the hashtag of the Stagecoach Festival.”

As the cofounder of Joie, the women’s contemporary brand that launched in 2001, designer Joie Rucker didn’t want to use her first name for her brand, but there was no other option she thought properly reflected her desired target audience. After leaving the Joie label, Rucker launched womenswear brand Calvin Rucker, LLC, leading her to reflect on her experience.

“In the agreement, I knew that there was a possibility that I wouldn’t always have the right to use ‘Joie’ as a brand,” she said. “From the beginning, I was able to use my name as a designer in perpetuity. I might not be able to use it as a brand name, but I could use it as a byline if I wanted to.”

Emphasizing the importance of establishing business trademarks, Malcolm McNeil, a partner at Arent Fox LLP, advised people to view the cost as an investment that would be valuable down the road when opportunities, such as licensing, come up.

“Budget $15,000 for a trademark. Every time you create a trademark, it has several values,” he said. “The more that you’re able to show the establishment of your business and have a solid foundation, the better you’re going to make it for me when I go to negotiate a better deal with you when you’re bringing in money.”