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Wiley & Mathews

How similar is 'too similar' for a trademark or logo?

Your trademark carries a lot of clout -- for good or bad -- with consumers. That's why it's always worth protecting -- and why so many companies will go to court in order to defend their trademark.

Take the case that's currently brewing between Ohio University and the website for Overtime Sports. Both want to lay claim to the use of a big "O" logo -- and they're taking the fight to court.

Ohio University, which uses an oversized, blocky red "O" that's familiar to anyone in the state, says that Overtime's big, black and white "O" is infringing on its exclusive rights -- that there's a potential for fans to confuse sports items from the two brands. Overtime says that the differences between the two images and their use are numerous enough to prevent any kind of confusion among ordinary people. Overtime is currently countersuing for its right to continued use of its logo.

Trademark and logo disputes can be expensive to handle, so let's talk about the best ways to avoid them. Here are some tips to use when you're planning your trademark:

  • Know who owns your trademark. This is particularly important in cases where you contract out the design or it is developed by a partner.
  • Avoid generic words. The less distinctive a trademark is (like an "O") the harder it can be to protect from copycats.
  • Do your research. It isn't enough to just check through the trademarks that are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Trademarks can gain protection through use, so dig deep before you settle on your logo.
  • Follow up on all problems. You can lose your trademark or logo simply by ignoring challenges or problems. Don't sit idly by if your rights are being infringed.

If you're concerned that an intellectual property dispute could affect your business, find out how to legally protect your company and your future.

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