I recently had the opportunity of speaking to Justin Herald, a leading Australian entrepreneur. He is famous for, among other things, starting the clothing brand Attitude Gear with just $50 when he was just 25 years old, and growing it within 6 years to a multi- million dollar business.
I spoke to him about his reflections on the business, and how a humble trademark registration at the beginning made all the difference.
I am always interested in talking to successful business owners about decisions they have made along the way that have served them in good stead, and so it happened that I was discussing that topic with Justin one day.
I was interested in understanding what motivated Justin to register the “Attitude” brand as a trademark in the beginning of his business, given his much publicised early shoestring budget (and given that trademark registration costs are often foregone by business owners at the inception stage of the business in the mistaken belief that other areas of the business are more worthy of focus at that time).
Justin relayed a story to me of a discussion he had with a wise old man back in 1995 when he was just starting out. The wise advice was simply “Don’t forget to get a trademark.”
Like many business owners, Justin had no idea what a trademark was or why this would be something that he should be thinking about at time when he had so many other competing issues and expenses.
As is commonly misunderstood, he believed that the brand name was simply protected by his business name registration.
After a bit of research into business names and trademarks he soon realised that he needed to trademark the name if he was going to stop other people from using it. Although his path to registration was not as straightforward as he hoped it might be, he now looks back on that decision as one of the most important decisions he made for that business. In his words: “your name and your brand is your most valuable asset” (I swear those were his words, not mine!) And he lamented (just like I have done so many times) that business owners so often just do not understand how very important their brand is, and how important it is to protect it.
In fact, Justin credits that little decision all those years ago to protect his brand as one of the major reasons that he was able to command such a handsome price for the business and the brand.
So, these days, in his work with businesses, the first thing Justin tells all his business start-up contacts is to protect their brand with a trademark registration. In his opinion, if you come up with a brand name that someone else wants, a trademark is really the best way of getting full protection and creating that asset that can be sold and licensed in the future.
(And I definitely have to agree with that.)
Justin now keeps a constant watch on the trademarks register, to ensure that the value of his trademark registration isn’t diminished by other people getting marks registered that are too similar to his. He says his trademark is the most valuable part of his business so it is really important to keep a close watch.
Justin also made the decision to register internationally, getting trademark registrations in the US, England and Europe. Justin said that in the end, Attitude became an intellectual property business rather than a clothing business, even though essentially it was clothing that he was selling. As a result of his diligence in protecting his brand, he ended up having a brand that he was then able to license worldwide.
Given the changes in the business environment since 1995, with the internet now so important to most businesses, it is even more important to have protection for your brand and to make sure you are ready, willing and able to defend it against use by other people.
When I asked Justin what he thought was the most important lesson that he could impart to businesses relating to trademarks, he said that really it is about the education process, about helping people to understand the value of the intellectual property in their business. And that if you do not protect it, that value can literally be taken away from you. But it is not just about the risks that can arise if you do not protect your brand. It is also more importantly about the benefits that are created by having a trademark registration, the benefit of you looking at your intellectual property as an asset, of thinking about ways that you can commercialize your intellectual property, by licensing it to others to use, the possibility of intellectual property protections helping you grow your business into areas that you may have never thought of running in the beginning. Trademarks can be seen as a vehicle for growth and a way for business owners to take a step back and look at the business from the outside in rather than the inside out.
So there you have it. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Many thanks to Justin for his insight into this area for us as an unbiased business voice.
Just like Justin, we are also passionate about trademarks. If you have a trademark question, we are always happy to assist. We offer a free initial meeting for new clients, so if you have a question and want some help – give us a call on 02 8006 0830 or drop us a line to [email protected] to set up a time for a discussion.