Coke® Nike®, Apple®. These corporations have succeeded in brand marketing. Say the word and everyone knows what you are talking about. How did they do that? Step one was to obtain a trademark. These big companies understand that protecting your brand is important, and we need to understand that a church’s brand is just as important.
As a lawyer practicing in the church world, I have seen many things you would never believe. We often assume that because we are in church, God’s Church, everyone will just play nice. That is not always the case. One church went so far to host a group that was burdened about starting a church. The pastor and staff showed them how they did church, some of their processes, and everyone left encouraged. A few months later, the church found out that the new church startup liked everything about them, so much they even “borrowed” their name. Now this seems like flattery on the surface, but it also puts churches in a difficult situation. Now they either have to let their brand become corroded, or they have to “ask” the church to change its branding.
You may be thinking that no one wants to copy your name, it’s so generic, or it may not be able to be trademarked. Before you decide this is not for you, let me give you a few more examples.
The landscape of the digital world has changed, and if you are holding a digital presence online, you need to consider protecting your brand. Here are just a few examples. I had a church who was putting the video of their services online. They had a guest at an event (not even Sunday morning,) but a few people wanted to harm the guest and their family, so they edited an unflattering compilation of out-of-context clips and tried to smear the church and the guest by putting it on YouTube. You can read more about the YouTube takedown request process here. Needless to say, if they had a trademark of something simple like their name or logo and had embedded that into the video they posted on their website, chasing the video all over YouTube and beyond would have been faster and more efficient.
The other issue is domain names.
A web search is not sufficient to decide if you need a trademark.
You will spend thousands of dollars entrusted to you on marketing, signs, publications, and even online. But you must protect that branding and give stewardship to those things God has given your church. Just because you are not a mega-church does not mean you do not need to be smart with the things God has entrusted to you, plus, this is not as expensive as you may think.
Trademarking is not just for global companies. It is there to protect the “little guys” also, and your church can protect its branding by seeking a trademark of its name.
How much has your church invested in branding, and how much is it worth to protect it?