Trade Secrets

Mark our words: In the battle to get your product noticed, a trademark can be your best friend.

While a patent provides protection for your invention, most patents have narrow claims, meaning they prevent competition only from designs that are very similar to the patented product. When you are issued a narrow patent, one way to protect your product and make it stand out in the market is by using trademarks consumers will identify with your product.

A good example is the Mr. Coffee drip coffee maker. This machine has several patents, but there are many similar products on the market, and the trademarked "Mr. Coffee" name is the one widely recognized by consumers.

A trademark includes any word, name, symbol or device, or any combination, used to distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from the goods of others. Using trademarks in combination with patents can give your product a substantial market advantage.

Consider Sally Bergmoser of McLean, Virginia, who markets and sells her invention, Ripe-N-Pockets. The product is a series of hanging compartments made from mesh that allow air to circulate and help pieces of fruit ripen just as they would on a vine or a tree.

Bergmoser got her idea in 1993, had a patent by 1994 and started selling her product in 1996. Last year, her direct-mail volume was under $100,000. Sales are expected to increase rapidly this year, since she's lined up a distribution network and a manufacturer's representative who concentrates on sales to catalogs and large retailers. In 1997, Bergmoser decided to further protect her product against competition by obtaining a trademark for the Ripe-N-Pockets name.

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This article was originally published in the November 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Trade Secrets.

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