Unburden the entrepreneur: How Merk-Echt is helping entrepreneurs register and protect trademarks

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In 2016, the government of Iceland launched legal action against Iceland Foods, a British grocery chain, for its exclusive ownership of the European-wide trademark registration. The lawsuit argued that the trademark ownership for the word ‘Iceland’ prevented the country’s companies from promoting goods and services abroad.

The lawsuit showed battle over trademark names and how protecting trademark and preventing trademark infringement could be an uphill task. While it is easier than ever to create a brand, the process of registering a trademark and protecting it remains a challenge. That’s where Merk-Echt, a Dutch legal services provider, comes in.

Patrick Hoefsmit, founder and managing director of Merk-Echt, started the company in 1997 after losing a trademark in his previous business. Hoefsmit says the need for Merk-Echt arose from the fact that they were not informed about the “need to renew trademark registration every 10 years” and were “irritated by the way trademark attorneys treated them when they tried to get a new trademark.”

Trademark is not only for big brands

Patrick Hoefsmit Merk-Echt
Patrick says Merk-Echt registers the most trademarks of all Dutch firms | Image Credit: Merk-Echt

The ordeal that Hoefsmit went through while registering a new trademark made him realise that he cannot be the only SMB owner facing this problem. “It turned out that only a very small percentage of SMBs had made the effort to go after a trademark,” he says.

After more than two decades in the industry, Hoefsmit says the biggest mistake made by most entrepreneurs is assuming that only well known businesses like Coca-Cola or Nike need a trademark.

Even for those entrepreneurs interested in having their own trademark, the process is complicated. When asked about specific challenges, Hoefsmit explains how every country has its own legislation around trademarks, and how most attorneys bill their clients on an hourly basis with no guarantee of the outcome.

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In simple terms, the process of registering a trademark is complicated due to different legislations, attorneys that offer no guarantees, and the fact that results often come at a high cost. For Hoefsmit, this was an opportunity for a trademark agency that makes the whole process easier and friendlier. “That’s what we decided to do,” he adds.

Unburden the entrepreneur

The mission of Merk-Echt is to unburden the entrepreneur looking to trademark their brand. “Entrepreneurs want to be advised in plain language, and want to know what the benefits are for them to have a trademark registration,” Hoefsmit tells Silicon Canals.

He says entrepreneurs appreciate it when they are told in plain language about their chances to obtain trademark rights and the cost associated with it. By taking care of all the nitty gritty details and giving them peace of mind, Hoefsmit says Merk-Echt delivers on all that.

The edge, however, lies in the fact that Merk-Echt offers a money back guarantee in the case the registrar “does not accept the trademark application.”

Merk-Echt, according to Hoefsmit, has registered more than 50,000 trademarks and the company calculates a trademark registration per country. It has now registered in more than 150 different countries and regions but trademark remains an afterthought for a lot of entrepreneurs.

Finding that distinctive name

Apart from educating entrepreneurs about the importance of trademarks, Merk-Echt is also seeing a challenge with the names itself. Hoefsmit says a number of companies or product names are too descriptive to be registered as a trademark.

Hoefsmit explains, “A trademark registration gives you a monopoly of the use of that word (or logo) and obviously you can not monopolise a word that already describes what you are doing.”

The chief of Merk-Echt says they have sent a lot of entrepreneurs back to the drawing board to come up with a more distinctive name. “Our advice is that it is a good idea to have a descriptive domain name and/or subtitle in your name, but you need a distinctive and original name to build your very own reputation on,” he adds.

Is there a workaround though? Well, Merk-Echt has seen entrepreneurs combine a descriptive name with a logo to have a figurative mark with word elements. However, the company does not see it as a strong alternative to having an original distinctive wordmark.

Speaking to Hoefsmit makes it evident that the importance of a trademark has not dawned on entrepreneurs yet.

He asks, “If you are proud of your company, if you hope that your customers return to do more business or even better promote you to their fellow entrepreneurs, if you give your clients any form of guarantee, if you advertise to get more business, then why do you leave your name unprotected?”

To understand the real value of a trademark, one need not look any further than WeWork and its fallen founder Adam Neumann. According to the company’s failed S-1 filing, WeWork revealed how Neumann held a trademark for the word “WeWork” and his company licensed to use that name. It sets a bad example but also shows how valuable a singular word can be when trademarked.

“Unfortunately a lot of entrepreneurs do see a trademark registration as a sideshow,” Hoefsmit says.

Leading trademark agency in the Netherlands

Merk-Echt Team
Merk-Echt aims to unburden the entrepreneur looking to trademark their brand | Image Credit: Merk-Echt

Merk-Echt registers the most trademarks of all Dutch firms and recently opened an office in Amsterdam to become more attractive to IP attorneys. Hoefsmit does not mince words when it comes to Merk-Echt’s ambition with the company aiming to become the leading trademark agency in the Netherlands.

It won the FD Gazelle award for the fastest growing companies in the Netherlands for three years in a row and Hoefsmit says, “we try to go as fast as our fastest client, the Dutch Formula 1 World Champion.” It plans to open offices abroad but Hoefsmit is not announcing the locations just yet.

However, to become a leading trademark agency in the Netherlands, Merk-Echt has partnered with Salesforce. The company uses Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Experience Cloud, Customer Community, and MyTrailhead to deliver the best experience to its customers.

Speaking of Salesforce, Hoefsmit says “it was the best CRM package one could buy nine years ago and remains the best there is to find even today.”

“In the past nine years, we have built not only our CRM but our whole process on Salesforce: invoicing, registration, renewals, search and watch services, legal work and files, deadline management, workload, dashboards, APIs with official registration offices, Chamber of Commerce, administration software and all Dutch banks,” Hoefsmit explains.

As a growing company, Merk-Echt aims to be scalable and automate repetitive, error-prone tasks to deliver higher quality faster and at lower cost. “We have developed our Salesforce with focus on the client’s perspective in contrast with standard available IP management software where the attorney’s way of working is prime,” he says.

Join forces with leaders and success platforms

Hoefsmit says entrepreneurs and startups should register their trademark just before they become successful. He also cautions them from producing their products in countries with cheap labour without registering their trademark in that country first.

“We have seen too often that Chinese factories registered the trademark of their clients to make it impossible to switch from supplier without being blackmailed,” he reveals as a cautionary tale.

As a company hiring graduates from law school, sales people, and Salesforce admins and developers, Hoefsmit says happy coworkers and satisfied clients are the barometer of success for Merk-Echt.

For success, he recommends startups and entrepreneurs to partner with leaders and success platforms like Salesforce. He says Merk-Echt quadrupled in sales and profit and it wouldn’t have been possible without Salesforce.

He says, “Join forces with the leaders and become part of the success platform of Salesforce as soon as you can and do not forget to trademark your name on time.”

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The editorial team of Silicon Canals brings you technology news from the European startup ecosystem. 

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