Protect Your Brand: Trademark Monitoring for Franchisors
Almost all franchisors own at least one federally registered trademark (and if they don’t, they should). As a general principle, brand owners are required to monitor and enforce their trademark rights in order to retain the exclusivity afforded by federal trademark registrations. This takes on additional complexities for franchisors—who need to make sure not only that no one is using their trademarks without authorization, but also that franchisees are making proper use of their marks.
For most companies, trademark monitoring is the task of examining the market for illegitimate, unauthorized, and otherwise negative references to a company’s trademarks. Potential threats can include:
- Infringers (such as start-ups that have unwittingly adopted a similar name);
- Counterfeiters (businesses that knowingly sell knock-off goods under your trademark); and
- Dissatisfied consumers (who may take to social media to complain about your brand).
For franchisors, trademark monitoring also involves keeping tabs on use of the franchisor’s trademarks by its franchisees.
One of the fundamental components of a franchise agreement is a license for the franchisee to use the franchisor’s trademarks. With regard to this license, the franchise agreement will impose certain obligations and restrictions on how and where the franchisee can make use of the marks. Getting most franchisees to comply with these obligations and restrictions takes training and ongoing advisement.
When monitoring franchisees’ use of their trademarks, franchisors should look for:
- LLC, corporation and trademark registrations in the names of franchisees (these should be prohibited by the franchise agreement);
- Proper use of their trademarks (for example, referring to the franchised outlet as a “Pool Pro franchise”, and not “Pool Professionals”, and not saying “we are Pool Pros”);
- Unauthorized domain names and social media accounts;
- Appropriate use of advertising materials, company slogans, etc.;
- Misleading advertising by franchisees; and
- Consumer complaints from regions where franchised outlets are located.
Trademark monitoring is important for franchisors for several reasons. First and foremost, failure to monitor and enforce trademark rights can result in cancellation of the USPTO trademark registration loss of those rights altogether. Second, as alluded to above, trademark monitoring works to promptly identify and address infringers, counterfeiters and dissatisfied customers. Third, and specific to franchisors, franchisors owe a duty to their franchisees to make sure that their brand is protected. A big part of any franchise investment is the right to associate with the franchisor’s name and become immediately recognizable in the marketplace. If a franchisor loses control of its brand, this can have drastic effects for both the franchisor and its franchisees.
By effectively monitoring and enforcing their trademarks, franchisors can help ensure that their brands retain valuable, lasting and positive impressions in the marketplace.
Jeff Fabian is the owner of Fabian, LLC, a boutique intellectual property and business law firm serving new and established franchisors and franchisees. Contact the firm directly at 410.908.0883 or email@example.com. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter @jsfabian.
This article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. Always consult an attorney before taking any action that may affect your legal rights or liabilities.
Why Doesn't White Castle Franchise?
The answer is actually pretty simple and proves that rabid customer loyalty and a consistent menu, while not sufficient for world-beating growth, can still take a brand a long way.
Talking with Current Franchise Owners
Reading through a FDD is a key part of your research, but it can’t answer all the potential questions you might have about how it is to actually operate a given franchise. The best way to do this is actually to start talking to current franchisees. The best way is to this is to call or visit a franchisee, don’t just email them. You might need to be a bit persistent, but if you are then you can get all of your questions and concerns answered.
How Curves Fitness Centers Became one of the Fastest Growing Franchises Ever
[Gary Heavin, Curves]: Thanks, Matt. I'm glad to be here with you today and with your listeners.