Supercharge Your SEO with Trademarks

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Supercharged by The 359, CC Attribution-Share Alike License

Supercharged by The 359, CC Attribution-Share Alike License

If you are anything like me, odds are that you turn to Google several times a day to fact check anything and everything.

Similarly, we turn to the all-knowing Internet to research products and services before we buy. Recent statistics indicate that almost five billion (that’s a whopping nine zeroes) Google searches are executed per DAY — an incredible stat, but what does this have to do with my business? And how can I dramatically improve my SEO with trademarks?

Savvy entrepreneurs know that seas of prospective clients are searching Google everyday for the very services or products they provide. Whether these searchers find your site or your competitor’s is something you may have greater control over than you realize.

GOAL: land a high ranking position in the organic search results for well-targeted keywords related to your customer’s needs (i.e., your services and/or products).

Knowing the immense value of being on the first page of organic search results, companies are spending a fortune hiring experts to game search engine algorithms in an effort to increase their visibility online for would-be customers searching for what they provide. The service of improving one’s search engine rankings has grown into a high-dollar industry in its own right, popularly known as search engine optimization (“SEO”). For a quick example, search for “retina display” and you’ll find links to Apple products and articles discussing those products — what you won’t find are Apple’s competitors (keep reading to find out why that is…).

Show Me The [Advertising] Money.

To get a sense of how much money big businesses are paying for Google real estate, here are a few top Adwords investors in various industries and the amounts they spent in 2011 alone:

  1. 1-800-flowers.com – $30.8 million, Occasions & Gifts industry
  2. ULINE – $35.1 million, Business & Industrial
  3. AT&T – $40.8 million, Internet & Telecom
  4. Cars.com – $21.3 million, Vehicles
  5. Lowe’s – $59.1 million, Home & Garden
  6. University of Phoenix – $46.9 million, Jobs & Education
  7. Statefarm – $43.7 million, Finance & Insurance

(*Admittedly these are Adwords figures and not directly representative of organic SEO expenses, but indicative of trading dollars for keywords nonetheless. For more, see the full article here.)

I Don’t Have a $20 Million+ Advertising Budget. How Can I Compete?

The good news is you don’t have to! This is where innovators and creative entrepreneurs can truly thrive. Rather than competing for the same keywords Fortune 100 companies in your industry are shelling out embarrassing riches for, get creative. Coin original (and trademarkable) terms that resonate with your clients. Then protect these terms and leverage your exclusive usage rights to secure your business a spot on the first page of search engine results.

Recall the search for “retina display” that resulted only in Apple products or related articles. Why is it that Apple dominates the results page? Because Apple’s competitors cannot legally describe their ultra high resolution displays as being “retina” — even if they surpass Apple’s “retina” pixel density! This is trademark law hard at work.

Why is a Trademark Attorney Talking About Marketing?

Before “zumba dance dvd” became a $5.18 cost-per-click keyword and “fios availability” weighed in at $19.99 per click, these terms simply did not exist.

Many of today’s highly valuable and sought-after keywords began as trademarks.

Don’t take my word for it. Look no further than this list of trademarks turned commonly used words:

  • Xerox (owned by Xerox)
  • Kleenex (owned by Kimberly-Clark)
  • Escalator (originally a trademark of Otis Elevator Company)
  • Aspirin (formerly owned by Bayer, now generic in the U.S.)
  • Laundromat (formerly owned by Westinghouse Electric but now expired)
  • Videotape (originally trademarked by Ampex Corporation)
  • Zipper (originally a trademark of B.F. Goodrich)
  • Yo-Yo (trademark of Papa’s Toy Co. Ltd., but declared generic in the U.S.)
  • Band-Aid (owned by Johnson & Johnson)
  • Dumpster (owned by the Dempster Brothers)
  • Realtor (owned by the National Association of Realtors)
  • Velcro (owned by Velcro company)

*Many of the above have gone well beyond achieving the status of a valuable keyword and become “genericized” — a fate trademark owners want to take steps to avoid. Genericization is beyond the scope of this post but feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this concept further.

“They invented ‘SUV’ because they can’t call them Jeep.”

This principle is clear in Chrysler’s campaign to protect the JEEP trademark. The slogan above (and more) ruggedly encapsulates the point that those looking to purchase a 4×4 may Google the keyword “Jeep,” which is a protected trademark. If you own exclusive rights to use the term prospective clients associate with your product category, you can prevent competitors from using that term under many circumstances.
For example, If Zumba’s competitor P-90X wanted to siphon off would-be Zumba customers, it seems logical that P-90X would include the keyword “Zumba” in its SEO campaign even though it’s also a trademark, right? Tread carefully.

Here, if P-90X’s usage of the ZUMBA trademark may constitute trademark infringement. If the use was confusing to consumers and lead them to click the link under the belief that it would lead to Zumba products, it would likely constitute trademark infringement. However, under certain limited conditions, the unlicensed use of a trademark may be protected.

Caveat: First Amendment principles pertaining to commercial speech may coincide and trump trademark rights under certain conditions. US law permits certain limited uses of trademarks belonging to competitors, deeming them a “fair use.” One example of this permitted fair use is comparative advertising — e.g., product A costs twice as much and works half as well as product B.

The best practice is to steer clear of the unlicensed use of other’s trademarks. Laws governing the fair use of trademarks may vary in other countries and I strongly recommend discussing the matter with an experience trademark attorney before you contemplate the use of your competitor’s trademarks in advertising.

Exclusivity has its Privileges.

Coin a new term or mark that gets traction with consumers and you can largely control the circumstances under which your competitors can use that term. In other words, rather than using your wallet to complete over keywords under a pay-per-click scheme, trademark your distinctive terms and have trademark law do the heavy lifting for you.

Want more legal tips about using trademark and other areas of the law to benefit your business? Take the first step in protecting your brand’s most valuable asset now by subscribing below for free updates about my future posts and offerings. 


Trademark is a complex area of the law that is commonly misunderstood and vastly underutilized by many entrepreneurs. For more information, I encourage you to read my other articles:

  1. Avoid These Common Trademark Application Mistakes
  2. Trademark Registration – Is Your Brand At Risk?
  3. Business Name Ideas – Read This Before Naming Your Company

*Ian Gibson, Esq. is an attorney licensed to practice in the state of California. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Visiting iangibson.com does not create an attorney-client relationship. This material may be considered advertising under applicable state laws. Copyright 2013 Ian Gibson.

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*Ian Gibson, Esq. is an attorney licensed to practice in the state of California. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Visiting iangibson.com does not create an attorney-client relationship. This material may be considered advertising under applicable state laws. Copyright © 2012-2013 Ian Gibson, Esq.

8 responses to Supercharge Your SEO with Trademarks

  1. Fantastic blog post and superb title. I’ve been beating this drum for a long time..its nice to see an attorney that gets it. Google loves brands and trademarks are a great way to protect your brand.

    Google even has a trademark complaint form for Adwords:

    https://services.google.com/inquiry/aw_tmcomplaint

    Google is essentially a universe of words, even video, sound and image-based content are tagged with words. It only makes sense to protect the words that you own.

  2. It is pretty much about the same in France, and I had no idea about how it worked in the US. I’m glad I read your article, and I will keep on following your posts to learn more about it.

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