Protect Your Brand, Oprah Style: 5 Legal Strategies She Uses (And You Should, Too)

Protect Your Brand, Oprah Style: 5 Legal Strategies She Uses (And You Should, Too)
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Attorney, Speaker, Business & Legal Advisor, Founder of J.A. Williams Law
5 min read
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Creating a strong brand in the eyes of your audience can be the difference between building your business to unimaginable heights, or sinking your ship before you even get started.

Many people have the illustrious dream of having a business empire as big as the beloved philanthropist and billionaire entrepreneur, Oprah. From Harpo Studios, O Magazine and OWN Network, Oprah is the master of creating an empire that rests solidly on companies and revenue streams that play off her inspirational stance in personal development, along with her incredibly unique name.

Now, of course Oprah has trademarked her companies to keep her brand right and tight.  But often people think simply registering a trademark is all they have to do and they’ve hit the brand jackpot. However, a chief component and underlying thread to Oprah’s mega-success is keeping her brand strong and preventing dilution.  

Brand and/or trademark dilution occurs whenever there is a likelihood of confusion between your goods and/or services and someone else’s, because they have incorporated key components of your brand into their own. If your brand is no longer distinguishable from another seller in the eyes of the public, you could run the risk of losing your intellectual property protection under the law.

Related: What the Craft Beer Industry Can Teach Entrepreneurs About Trademarks

To ensure this doesn’t happen to you causing you to have an elusive, watered down brand that no one remembers, here are five legal strategies you can use to ensure that your brand remains strong:

1. Trademark your brand name

Have you ever heard of another Oprah? Probably not because she’s one of the few people that have taken the steps to trademark her name to ensure she’s the only one with that name in the eyes of the public and her marketplace. Trademarking your name ensures that it remains unique to you and it’s brand GOLD for your company. While you can trademark products and services as well, if you want to develop a strong personal brand or develop multiple streams of income for your company, follow Oprah’s lead and trademark your name.

2. Police your mark

Once you have your name trademarked, did you know that you could lose your mark and all the exclusive rights that come with it if you don’t police the Internet to ensure others are not using your mark in the marketplace where you have it registered? Well, since you’re running a business and you don’t have time to scour the Internet for fakers, set up Google alerts so you’re notified every time you have an infringer (I sometimes call them a brand bandit) on the loose.  Then, consult with your attorney to determine your course of action.

3. Send 'Take Down' notices

Now, every time you find someone using your mark without your authorization, it is time to send him or her a "Cease and Desist" letter, also known as a "Take Down Notice." This letter puts that person on notice that you own the mark in question and they are required by law to remove any infringements from their websites, servers, products or services.

Related: Avoid These 8 Toxic Trademark Mistakes

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1996 was instituted to protect your intellectual property on the Internet. Violators run the risk of losing their own protection under the act, so usually they will comply upon first notice. Also, this Act applies in many cases when individuals steal your marketing copy, blog posts and any other works protected by intellectual property law. It is a great way to protect your brand’s integrity.

4. Use the 'common thread' technique

This is a surefire way to strengthen your brand using what you already own. For example, Oprah uses some variation of her name most of her business ventures (O Magazine, Harpo Studios, OWN Network). Using the components of your brand name for any revenue streams or businesses you want to create is one of the smartest ways to keep your brand and its name in the public’s memory. Even corporate companies use this technique such as Virgin (Virgin Airlines and Virgin Mobile, to name a few.), because it provides solid brand recognition and more exposure for you and your message.  

5. Ensure that your contracts include Intellectual Property protection

Make sure your contractors and employees sign agreements that state that they cannot use your intellectual property (IP) for their own personal or business use. Even better, make sure that you have the power to authorize their use in all scenarios.  Include a clause that indicates that you own all intellectual property created for you during their engagement with your Company. I’ve seen countless entrepreneurs forget this step only to have a contractor steal their content or fail to transfer the rights to the property causing nightmares for the company. Having this clause in your contracts can save you some serious brand agony.

Creating a strong brand in the eyes of your audience can be the difference between building your business to unimaginable heights, or sinking your ship before you even get started. If you have big empire dreams and someone like Oprah inspires you, it’s time to get serious about protecting your brand.

Related: Non-Disclosures Can Protect Your Idea, or Destroy It

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