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Trademark Strategies for Real Estate Brokers

Nov 11, 2020 7:08:00 AM

It is rather easy to take for granted that massively successful real estate companies like Keller Williams, Corcoran Group, Douglas Elliman and other titans have simply always existed, as iconic brands. The truth, of course, is that these companies did not emerge out of thin air and their brands were built carefully and purposefully over a long period of time.

The essence of a brand is its name – when a person in the real estate industry hears the word, Corcoran, he/she thinks something. It goes without saying that depending on whether or not a person has a favorable or negative view of the Corcoran Group, the word “Corcoran” will elicit different feelings but the critical point here is that the word is undoubtedly charged and imbued with reputational qualities. Real Estate brokers who will increasingly find themselves with competition that is both ubiquitous and rigorous should pay careful attention to the importance of personal branding and work to develop a brand identity that is unique and trademarkable.

What Is a Trademark

A trademark is simply a branding anchor which when used along with the sale of a good or a service, enables a consumer to know the source-company behind the good/service. For example, if one were to a see a large “Apartment Units For Rent” sign in front of an Apartment Complex, with the name “Corcoran” at the bottom of the sign, a viewer would immediately understand that 1. There are apartments for rent and; 2. The real estate company which is (at least to a large extent) responsible for the leasing/management of the apartment units is the Corcoran Group. Thus, in this example, “Corcoran” not only communicates the information that the Corcoran Group is technically responsible for the apartments but brands that responsibility with its trademark.

A trademark does not necessarily need to be a company name but instead can also be a logo, slogan or even a sound. The immediate purpose of a trademark is to brand a good/service with a relatable mark that immediately summons a belief or attitude about the company selling the good/service in a bid to increase the chances that a consumer will then purchase the good/service. Are NIKE basketball shoes really any better than the competition? Well, frankly, who cares? The shoes have the word NIKE on them and that makes all the difference.

How to Obtain a Trademark

In the United States, there are two ways to obtain trademark protection on a proprietary name/logo/slogan. The first is through what are called, Common Law trademark rights. A Common Law trademark simply says that when an individual uses a name/logo/slogan in conjunction with the sale of a good/service, she is automatically awarded with the exclusive right to use that name, in the limited geographical location in which the trademark is used. For example, if a Real Estate broker were to put the slogan, “Our Customers Are Our Children”, on all of her marketing materials that she uses to sell houses in Chicago, Illinois, she would have a Common Law Trademark on that Slogan in the city of Chicago and no other real estate professional would be legally permitted to brand their marketing materials with the same, or even similar, slogan.

If this real estate broker had a national practice, however, and she wanted to protect her slogan in California, New York, Michigan and Ohio, she would be wise to file a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and garner protection on her trademark throughout the entire United States. There are many components to correctly filing a trademark with the USPTO but the key point to understand is that when applying for the mark, the applicant only obtains the rights to the trademark for a specific set of goods/services which are explicitly designated in the application. The applicant must therefore choose the desired goods/services to be listed very carefully and then codify those items according to the USPTO’s Classification system. In our example, the broker would list in her application, “Real estate brokerage; real estate agency services; real estate listing” in CL 036. Assuming this broker filled out the trademark application correctly and no other trademark already exists which is sufficiently similar to hers, given the goods/services listed in the trademark application, the USPTO will grant the trademark and within 6-12 months from the filing date, the broker will receive a registered trademark for the slogan, “Our Customers Are Our Children.”

Powerful Real Estate Slogans

Real estate brokerage companies that treat their businesses as brands, rather than as merely faceless conduits to sell services, understand that powerful slogans can compel consumer action. Below are a list of five powerful and more importantly, memorable slogans in the real estate space.

  1. 1.BE HOME BE HAPPY” – Adler Development, USPTO RN#: 4835971
  2. LET US GUIDE YOU HOME” - MLSOnline, Inc., USPTO RN#: 4628047
  3. LET OUR FAMILY SHOW YOUR FAMILY THE WAY HOME” - William Raveis Real Estate, Inc., USPTO RN#: 4551140
  4. LIVE WHO YOU ARE”- Corcoran Group USPTO RN#: 5984464
  5. KNOWN GLOBALLY. LOVED LOCALLY.” - Douglas Elliman Realty, LLC USPTO RN#: 4977446

DON’T SELL A SERVICE; SELL AN IDEA

Perhaps one of the most insightful lines in the entire Batman narrative comes from Henry Ducard, the morally ambiguous antagonist Bruce Wayne both learned from and ultimately challenged. Ducard instructed Batman, “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely.” The message here is clear; people are forgettable. Businesses are forgettable; Services are forgettable; IDEAS last forever. Real estate professionals and brokers must internalize this message and cultivate a brand identity which is timeless and omnipresent. Then, protect it at all costs.

Abe Cohn is an attorney at Cohn Legal, PLLC, a law firm designed specifically to provide a boutique experience for entrepreneurs. 

 

 

 

 

 

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