Posted: by Moyra Burke-Smith

So what’s in a name? Well quite often your business depends on the name you’ve built up, it becomes synonymous with your brand and the qualities your business is renowned for. Think Ferrari, the name conjures up images of fast, red, sleek bodied cars, Coke, young, happy people, ice cold drinks on a hot day.

What if suddenly you had to change your name? I’m not talking a planned rebrand, new artwork, a makeover, I mean completely change everything and not because you wanted to but because you had to.

This is what can happen if you forget to renew your trade marks and domain names. Keeping tabs on when these are due can be critical to your business.

What many people don’t realise is that trade mark and domain name registrations are generally issued on a first-to-apply basis. Registration provides exclusive use rights within the nominated categories and for a limited time. One would therefore think securing ownership of those assets – and then holding on to them – would be a high priority for all business owners and brand managers.

Failing to secure registration – or allowing it to lapse – can severely hinder business operations and dilute the value of your brand. It can leave you exposed to a competitor (local or overseas), or held hostage to the demands of a mischievous squatter or rogue distributor. You might be surprised just how frequently this happens.

One such instance happened in the US in late January when New Jersey Transit failed to register seven trade marks including its logo and well-known slogan, ‘NJ Transit the way to go’. The error was costly, both from a financial perspective and a reputational one. As the state’s public transport corporation, NJ Transit operates 230-plus bus routes and 11 rail lines, connecting New York and Philadelphia and providing 223 million passenger trips each year.

According to reports, this is not the first time NJ Transit has mismanaged its intellectual assets: the NJ Transit website was taken offline three years ago because the agency allowed its domain name to expire.

The important lesson to be learnt from that big operator is to audit your intellectual assets and make sure you know exactly who owns what and when renewals are due.

Ongoing and effective management of your trade marks and domain names is vital if you seek to protect and leverage your intellectual property. Plus, the price is modest when compared to financial and reputational cost you will incur if you take the NJ Transit route.

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