Brand Licensing: What Small Businesses Can Learn from Kim Kardashian

Five important facts about trademarks and licensing:

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Small businesses, take heed: You can learn a lot from Kim Kardashian’s trademark licensing game. In July, she netted approximately $90 million from a videogame app deal. It all started with a trademark. Trademarks are government-backed licenses that allow your business to both prevent and permit use of your exclusive brand by third parties. People mistakenly believe that trademarks and licensing are only tools for the entertainment industry—not so. In fact, trademarks are essential weapons for the protection and exponential growth of small businesses. Here are five important facts about trademarks and licensing:

1. Understand the Trademark Licensing Process. Licensing your trademark usually happens in a few phases. First, your company must create a solid brand. Almost immediately thereafter, the company should apply for a trademark for that brand with the USPTO office and await its approval. Once approved, hire a representative to actively negotiate partnerships with manufacturers and retailers who will compensate your company for putting your brand on their products. IMG, for example, is the international leader in licensing deals. These are the types of companies who put Michael Jordan’s name with Nike. Boutique firms, like Cober Johnson, represent small businesses looking for trademark licensing opportunities.

2. Trademarks Protect Your Brand. Trademarks also give businesses the right to stop anyone else from exploiting their brands without permission. Anyone. For instance, a Boston wedding planner trademarked the name “Blue Ivy” several years ago and recently stopped Jay-Z and Beyoncé from financially exploiting their daughter’s name.

3. Check Your Brand (with the USPTO) Before You Wreck You Brand. Don’t fall in love with the name of your business before first checking whether it’s available on www.USPTO.gov. Why invest your time, money, and energy in developing a brand only to later receive a “cease and desist” letter from the registered owner? As they say, “An ounce of prevention.”

4. Apply For Trademark Categories That Complement Your Brand. There are numerous trademark categories. Fragrances, handbags, furnishings—you can have a trademark in each of these categories and partner with manufacturers to use your name to sell those products. Case in point: The Kardashians filed more than 90 applications for trademarks since 2007. The categories they applied for range from makeup to handbags to public appearances—they get paid for them all because of their registered trademarks.

5. Expand Your Vision. Expand Your Brand. My friend, Warren Brown, opened a cupcake bakery, CakeLove, in 2002. He got his trademarks and expanded his brand into cookbooks and hosting talk shows for the Food Network. I’m sure one day he could expand into the category of baking utensils or aprons or mixers. Licensing allows a small business to expand beyond its core products and services.

So, small biz, “Think big!” Remember, every large brand started small: Walt Disney started as a graphics designer; Papa John started as a pizza delivery dude; and Kim Kardashian started with a videotape. It’s not where you start, however, it’s where you’re going. Trademark licensing can be your business’s passport to brand expansion and growth.

Nicole Cober, Esq. is a partner at Cober Johnson, a law firm focusing on trademarks, brand licensing and small biz consulting. She is a former small biz owner of the award winning chain, Soul Day Spa and Salon. She is also a legal consultant for Washington, D.C.’s NewsChannel 8 and author of the soon-to-be released book: CEO of My Soul: The Dos and Don’ts of Small Biz. Follow her on Twitter @CoberJohnson and like her on Facebook at Cober Johnson. Visit her website at www.coberjohnson.com.

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