How to Protect Your Nonprofit’s Name from Counterfeits and Identity Thefts
I still remember the awful feeling I had when I first became aware that someone was using my nonprofit’s name without our permission. I remember thinking “What type of person would do this to a nonprofit that is helping students?” I was devastated and concerned at the same time. I was devastated because I knew that this was now a legal matter and I did not know how much it would cost to fix it or how long it would take.
I was concerned because I realized that if I didn’t know that I needed a trademark to own my nonprofit’s name despite already being registered with the state and the I.R.S. – how many other people were in the same situation? I was a new attorney and had only been practicing law for a year. But I was so determined to make sure my nonprofit was protected that I started studying major brands such as Oprah Winfrey’s media empire, NIKE, etc. to find out how they protected their intellectual property. I didn’t know this at the time but the adversity I encountered motivated me to not only protect my nonprofit but to do the same for others nationwide.
Now that we’ve learned how to choose names that we can legally protect and make sure that they’re available with name searches, let’s talk about how to protect your nonprofit’s name from counterfeits and identity theft. Here are three things you can do:
1. Register a federal trademark – The most important thing you can do to discourage others from imitating your nonprofit is to become the legal owner of the name through obtaining a federal trademark. We’ll talk extensively about how to do this in this chapter.
2. Use the ® sign – As a registered trademark owner, you will legally be able to use the circle-R when you refer to your nonprofit to put others on notice that you are the legal trademark owner. For example, when I refer to Revolution Leadership® I use the circle-R at the end to let others know that the brand is legally owned and protected.
3. Monitor your brand – Once you have registered your nonprofit’s name, you will want to sign up with a service to monitor the use of the name. There are companies that will monitor trademark filings for you as well as online activity to let you know if anyone else is trying to infringe on your ownership rights. You can also sign up for free Google alerts which will let you know if someone is using your charity’s name on the internet. Just search for the words “google alerts” online to sign up.
Now that we know some practical ways to protect your nonprofit’s name from counterfeits and identity theft, let’s talk specifically about when you need a trademark and how to get one.