Photo by Robert Anasch / Unsplash

The Trademark Paradox: A Guide for Startup Founders, Managers, and Investors

Jan 16, 2023

In the dynamic world of startups and SMEs, intellectual property (IP) often takes a backseat to other pressing concerns like funding, growth, and customer acquisition. However, neglecting the importance of trademarks can be a costly mistake. For founders, managers, and investors alike, understanding the nuances of trademarks is crucial.

This blog post aims to shed light on the paradoxical relationship that many in the startup ecosystem have with trademarks and offer actionable insights.

The Paradoxes of Trademarks

Familiarity vs. Understanding

Many founders and managers are aware of trademarks and their significance. Yet, there is a glaring gap between awareness and understanding. It's not uncommon to hear statements like, "We know we need to trademark our name, but we'll do it later." This procrastination can lead to missed opportunities and potential legal pitfalls.

Speed vs. Strategy

The urgency to register a trademark often conflicts with the need for a thoughtful branding strategy. While it's tempting to secure a trademark quickly, especially in the age of fast-paced startups, rushing the process can result in a name that lacks distinctiveness or fails to resonate with the target audience.

Attachment vs. Adaptability

Founders and managers often become emotionally attached to the first name they choose for their solution. While emotional investment is understandable, it's essential to remain adaptable. As businesses evolve, so do their branding needs. Being open to rebranding can be a strategic move that aligns with the company's growth trajectory.

Obviousness vs. Originality

Choosing an obvious name for a solution may seem like a safe bet, but it often leads to trademark issues down the line. Originality is key to building a strong brand identity and avoiding potential legal disputes. Contrary to popular belief, generic or descriptive names are harder to protect and can dilute the brand's value over time.

Are You 'Trademark-Ready'?

A simple litmus test for determining how ready you are to register a trademark is to assess how widely used your commercial solution is.

  • Not Yet Used: If your solution is still in the conceptual or development stage, failing to secure a trademark could leave you vulnerable to IP theft or infringement. However, investing in a trademark too early may tie you down to a name that may not align with your business vision.
  • Widely Used: If your solution has gained traction and is used on a wide scale, you may already be at a crossroads where rebranding becomes a viable option. In such cases, conducting a comprehensive trademark search and assessment is crucial to avoid legal complications.

Other things to consider

The Myth of Global Protection: Contrary to popular belief, a trademark registered in one jurisdiction does not automatically grant global protection. Startups with international ambitions must navigate a complex landscape of regional laws and regulations.

The Cost of Enforcement: Registering a trademark is just the first step. Enforcing it can be a costly and time-consuming process. Founders and investors should weigh the potential ROI against the investment required for enforcement, or how well it can be used in commercial activity.

The Brand-Name Fallacy: While a catchy name can create initial buzz, it's the quality of the product or service that ultimately determines a company's success. Investing disproportionately in branding at the expense of product development can be a costly misstep.


Navigating the paradoxes of trademarks requires a balanced approach that combines legal compliance, strategic foresight, and adaptability. For founders, managers, and investors in startups and SMEs, understanding the intricacies of trademarks is not just a legal necessity but a strategic imperative.

Emotionally, while it's natural to become attached to your brand, maintaining flexibility and openness to change can pave the way for long-term success. Remember, in the world of trademarks, what's in a name can make all the difference.