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Lessons from Oprah on How to Protect Your Brand

Business Entity Structure / Business Growth Strategies / Business Productivity/Practices / Intellectual Property / Legal Agreements / Setting Boundaries / Starting Your Business / Sticky Situations

When you hear the name “Oprah,” you think of one person.  Not only because the name itself is so unique, but also because billionaire entrepreneur and media mogul Oprah Winfrey has done such an outstanding job of protecting and promoting her brand.

A recent article at examined the legal strategies Oprah has employed to ensure her brand remains strong and undiluted:

1.  Trademark your name.  To legally protect names that are unique to your company and your products or services, you need to trademark them.  Don’t make the mistake of spending on marketing and promotion without trademarking your brand and leaving it open for competitors to steal. You can trademark your name simply and for free by using the (™) symbol, so long as no one else is using the name. And if you want absolute protection, spend the extra money to ® your brand.

2.  Police your trademark.  The exclusive rights you have gained for trademarking your name could be lost if others use it in the same marketplace where you compete.  To guard against this, you need to police the Internet for unauthorized use of your trademark.  You can set up a Google alert that sends an email to your inbox every time your mark appears on the Internet.  If you find an infringer, you need to consult with your Family Business Lawyer™ to determine the necessary steps to stop the infringement.

3.  Send Cease and Desist notices.  Whenever you find an unauthorized use of your mark, you need to send a Cease and Desist letter — also known as a “Take Down Notice” — to the infringer.  This obligates them to remove any reference to your brand wherever it may appear, and also applies to any content someone may have copied from your website or other online properties.

4.  Use brand extensions.  You have probably noticed that Oprah uses an extension of her personal brand for most of her properties.  Her network is called OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), her magazine is O Magazine and her television production company is called Harpo Studios (Harpo is Oprah spelled backwards).  These brand extensions serve to strengthen her brand in the eyes of consumers and the law. 

5.  Include IP protection in contracts.  Your employees and your suppliers should sign agreements stating they may not use your trademarked brands for their own business or personal use.  Your contracts should include an intellectual property ownership clause, especially if you are dealing with independent contractors. 

Your business ideas and the implementation of them are important property worth protecting.  If you are interested in learning more about intellectual property protection strategies, call a Family Business Lawyer™ today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.

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