I was speaking to a startup recently that expressed frustration with Apple’s Tracker Detect app that lets Android users find unknown AirTags nearby. The problem? TrackerDetect had spent 2 years building their SEO and brand recognition for their cybersecurity products. Needless to say, when Apple launches a product and puts it on its website and hundreds of media outlets cover the launch, the chances of being found on Google drop precipitously.
The only option TrackerDetect had was to change its company name.
“Apple stole our name,” said Mira Marcus, the company’s public relations manager. Which surprised me, because that’s neither how intellectual property works nor how stealing works. The bottom line is that the company actually had no basic protections in place, such as applying for a trademark for its name.
A trademark application can seem like a really unimportant part of the startup journey – you’re busy building your business, hiring your staff, raising money, working on a product, and getting the press. Spending a few thousand dollars for a lawyer to file a trademark registration can seem like a lot of work and a lot of money out the window. And it is, if it turns out you never needed your brand in any way. On the other hand, having a mark and not needing it is infinitely more convenient than needing a mark and not having one.
In the United States, registering and maintaining registration throughout the process can be a time-consuming and costly ordeal. In my experience, working with an attorney and without much resistance from existing trademark owners usually costs around $1,500. It can be a little less if it’s a very obscure word you’re filing – and a lot more if someone decides to dispute the claim. I’ve been through both – for my company Triggertrap, I ended up trying to register Redshift as a trademark, and camera company Red sent a battalion of lawyers after me. It turned out to be a five figure sum spent on the lawyers and didn’t get us a trademark. I also at one point registered my own name as a trade mark in the UK (for the dumbest reason possible), in a very narrow class. It was undisputed; I did it myself without a lawyer, and the total cost was around $200. In other words, your mileage may vary.
The trademark itself can also be very valuable, as a friend discovered when Facebook launched a product that infringed on his company’s trademarks:
“I can’t tell you exactly how much Facebook ended up paying me,” he told me — and declined to be identified in a story for TechCrunch — “but when the company released a product that violated our brand, we threatened to sue. For them, the cost of renaming the product would have been astronomical, so they bought it from us. They gave us enough money so that we could postpone our fundraiser six-month Series A is all I’ll say. Best of all, we hadn’t launched yet, so renaming our company proved trivial.”
Unfortunately, this was not the case for TrackerDetect:
“As a lean startup, we didn’t file for a trademark,” Marcus told me. “It was not a priority for us.”
It’s easy to say in retrospect, of course, but this shift in the scale of priorities ended up causing a lot of problems. Enough, in fact, that the company had to change its name.
Although TrackerDetect already has customers and claims to have “millions of dollars in revenue”, it announced a name change this week, necessitated by the launch of the Apple product. The new name is Reveal Security, “which hopefully won’t have to fight a giant like Apple for search engine results,” Marcus notes.
Personally, I hope that the company will find great prosperity and success, and I note that when searching with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, I also did not find trademarks for Reveal Security. I asked the company about the lack of a trademark, and it seems they have decided not to ask for one, and they won’t. It seems that some people never learn their lessons; and if another company chooses to trademark or release a product called Reveal Security, there is nothing the company can do about it.
“Frankly, we don’t think a court would be able to help,” Marcus said in an email. “We think a brand would be a waste of time [because] we would need to go to court and it would take years to fix. Even if we had a brand, it would not be realistic in a digital transformation environment: by the time we win in court, we would have already faced the consequences. »
Sure, the company can run its business however it wants, but I know dozens of lawyers on an emergency basis who would happily take on Apple if there was a chance of a big paycheck at the end . Chances are, if you have a valid trademark, Apple would solve the problem by diving into its mighty coffers after a few firmly worded letters.
Either way, as you might expect, changing your name while your business is already up and running can be incredibly complicated, very expensive, and a huge distraction from your primary mission. And, of course, this can be easily avoided by filing your trademark applications as soon as possible – and certainly before launching the business publicly.
I put the ® marks in the title of this article, but I want to point out that it was both inaccurate and a stupid joke: to my chagrin, I failed, in fact, to convince the TechCrunch lawyers to register trademarks for Horribly expensive and Wildly boring.