If you have a trademark for your Maryland business, you know how important it is to distinguish your products or services from your competitors. However, having a trademark does not mean that you are immune from risk. Trademark infringement can harm your brand image, reputation and profits.
Conduct a search
The first step is to conduct a trademark search to find out if an infringer has registered or applied for a trademark that is identical or similar to yours. You can use the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s online database, other online tools or hire a trademark attorney.
A trademark search can help you determine if the alleged infringer has a legitimate claim. If they have registered or applied for a trademark before you did, they may have prior rights to use the mark in certain geographic areas or for certain goods or services. In that case, you may have to negotiate with them or limit your use of the mark to avoid conflict.
Send a cease-and-desist letter
If you find out that the alleged infringer does not have a valid trademark registration or application, or if their mark is clearly inferior or unrelated to yours, you can send them a cease-and-desist letter. A cease-and-desist letter is a formal notice that orders the infringer to stop using your mark and to take down any infringing materials from their website, social media, packaging, advertising, etc.
Negotiate a settlement
Sometimes, the infringer may respond to your cease-and-desist letter by agreeing to stop using your mark or by proposing a settlement. A settlement can involve various terms, such as the infringer paying you damages or royalties for past use of your mark. The infringer may also license your mark for future use under certain conditions or change their mark to make it more distinct from yours, among many other options.
A settlement can save you time and money by avoiding litigation. However, you should be careful not to accept any terms that may weaken your trademark rights or expose you to future liability. You should document any settlement agreement and have it signed by both parties.
File a lawsuit
You may have no choice but to file a lawsuit against them. To sue for trademark infringement, you need to prove that you own a valid and protectable trademark, the infringer used your mark in commerce without your authorization and their use is likely to cause confusion among consumers. You can file a lawsuit in either Maryland or federal court, depending on your case, but most choose federal.