Stake Your Turf. Do it NOW or forever hold your peace...
An once of legal hassle prevention is worth a pound of legal cure (plus lots of headaches, sleepless nights and long meetings with litigation lawyers - and who wants long meetings with them right?) just kidding, kinda.
Well, one area of legal hassle prevention that I often see entrepreneurs and small business owners missing is staking out brand turf. That's why when I work with a startup client, I recommend that once they think of a brand name they really like and check it for federal trademark registration, they do everything they can to stake out and protect their brand turf. Here's what I mean.
1. Reserve top level domains ("TLDs"). Even if you're not ready to have your own hosted website or blog, buy up the TLDs today! Nothing is worse than finding out on the eve of launching your website that some enterprising individual from halfway across the world owns yourbrand.com already and would be happy to sell it to you for $1,000. You need the .com TLD for your brand at the very minimum (if you can't get this I would rethink your brand since this is where all your potential clients will go by default) but I would also buy up the .net, .biz and .org TLDs and set them to redirect to .com and then build your website off the .com TLD for your brand. That way no matter how potential clients confuse your TLD, they will redirect to your website. This also prevents some domain troll from setting up their own website with your brand and another popular TLD to leech of your future success.
2. Reserve profiles on major social media platforms. Sure your social media days might be well in the future, but they will come! Again, you don't want to find one day that your brand name on Twitter or Facebook is being held hostage by some unscrupulous (or clueless) person. Even though the major social media players are pretty good about honoring brands and will probably kick out hi-jackers eventually, why not head things off at the pass (and eliminate the chance for them to damage your brand in the meantime too) by just reserving them from the very beginning? Of course these days you need to think broader than just Twitter and Facebook. You'll want to consider Instagram, Google+ and, depending on your business, maybe even Pinterest, Tumblr and Youtube too.
3. Identify your brand assets in terms and conditions or terms of service. If you operate a website for your business, it should have a comprehensive set of terms and conditions. If your website actually provides a service to your clients, then you should have your clients agree to terms of service. Both terms and conditions and terms of service constitute a binding contract (if done right) that your clients and visitors agree to. To use your terms and conditions or terms of service to protect your brand, make sure it references your brand assets, identifies them as yours, and indicates how they may or may not be used.
4. Clearly identify brand assets whenever you use them. Whenever you use your brand assets with the public, make sure to clearly identify it as a trademark or service mark (depending on whether you are selling a good or a service) using the "TM" and "SM" identifiers. This further stakes your claim on your brand turf, dissuading would-be brand hijackers and making it easier for you to establish your trademark under common law prosecution standards (in other words you have to show you were not only the first to use the trademark but that you actually intended to use it as a trademark).
Protecting your brand turf doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. The key is to do it early and thoroughly. You'll be glad you did.