Event businesses suffer when they do not proactively handle their legal matters. A common misconception is that businesses only need to worry about the “legal stuff” or hire an attorney after they get in legal trouble. While that may be the case for non-business matters, this is generally a bad idea when you are a business owner. The best time to hire (or at least consult with) an attorney is prior to launching, or in the very early stages of starting, an event business. To help you become proactive instead of reactive, here are four crucial keys to owning a legally sound event business:
1) Use a distinctive and non-infringing name
It is best to use a business/product/service name that is highly unique and distinctive from your competitors. The less your event rental business name conveys about the nature of your products and services, the better. Names consisting of invented words (such as KLEENEX for tissues) or real words applied to unrelated services (such as APPLE for computers) are the most distinctive and enjoy the highest brand protection in the United States marketplace on a nationwide level. You can always use a catchy descriptive tagline to identify the nature of your products or services.
To ensure that your business/product/service name does not infringe on prior third party’s rights, conduct in-depth searches of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) database, the Internet, business records, and domain name databases for your proposed name, including similar variations, for identical, similar, and closely related products and services to confirm whether it is available for use and registration in the United States. The point of a thorough trademark search is to minimize the risk of receiving a cease and desist letter (also known as a “nasty gram”), having to rebrand everything, or being subject to a lawsuit. 1 in 3 small businesses have to change their name and rebrand due to trademark similarity. As you can imagine, it is a very expensive and time-consuming process.
2) Protect your brand legally
All event businesses have intellectual property worth protecting. For example, trademarks protect your brand, meaning your business name, slogan, logo, product/service name, and other brand assets. A trademark gives you actual legal ownership and protection in your brand. Spending money to secure trademark registrations from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not merely an expense, but an investment in building real assets for your business. U.S. federal trademark registrations are similar to title documents in real estate (which establish exclusivity, ownership, statutory presumptions, and enforcement). At a minimum, their value is at least the amount spent to secure the registration, but their value can be significantly more depending on income history, market value, and projected future earning power. As your business reputation and influence grows, your trademarks become more valuable.
3) Document everything with contracts
If there is nothing in writing, there is no proof. It is important to memorialize in writing the exact terms of your agreement to eliminate any uncertainty or misunderstanding, protect your rights and interests, and minimize liability and legal disputes in the future. If a dispute later arises, you can always refer back to written contracts as evidence of what the parties agreed to. It essentially functions like “liability insurance” for your business.
Remember: having online contracts is not just about ensuring payment for an event, but also protecting your business from potential legal claims and damages.
4) Hire professional help
To save on expenses, event business owners often take a DIY approach or hire inexperienced professionals to handle important business and legal matters. Two areas that can get your business into serious hot water are legal and taxes. You should have a trusted go-to attorney, bookkeeper, and CPA on your team. When you outsource and delegate these very important matters, you have more time to focus on your business, and minimize your legal risks and liabilities.
Whether it is a dispute involving a former client or customer, business partner, or contractor with whom you did not have a written contract, or a competitor claiming that you are infringing on their intellectual property rights, litigation is a very costly, time consuming, and emotionally draining experience. If you are proactive instead of reactive, your business will be legally protected and secure for the long run.
Radiance W. Harris, Esq. is the founder and managing attorney of Radiance IP Law. She helps small business owners protect their trademarks. She has nearly a decade of extensive trademark law experience, and has represented small and large companies across diverse industries. She also has been recognized as a thought leader in the intellectual property law field and the legal community as a whole. Previously, Radiance worked at a major global law firm. She received her J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law and her B.A. from Swarthmore College.