How to Protect Your Brand with Trademarks

Written by Christine Bove on Dec 17, 2019 in Church Management

In 2011, Mars Hill Church was looking to launch another campus in another state. Already established in Seattle, Washington, they felt God leading them to launch another campus across state lines in California. 

After careful research, they discovered that another church named Mars Hill Church already existed in Sacramento, California. Using the same name and a similar logo, Mars Hill Church of Seattle entered into a name dispute with the Sacramento church. 

What would have helped either church from this complicated situation?

Many churches find themselves in this kind of situation. If not across state lines, they find new complications within their own state with other churches or ministries. 

It wasn’t until 2012 that the Seattle church registered their name and logo with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Had Mars Hill Church of Seattle registered their name when they established their ministry, they would have had greater chances of not encountering the difficulties they went through. 

To steward their name, ministries, and resources well, churches and ministries need to trademark their brand and utilize copyrights for any materials created through the organization. 

Church branding

What does a church or ministry trademark? Their brand.

A common misconception about branding is that it is only for businesses. While the Church doesn’t have a “product” necessarily that it’s trying to “sell,” churches rely on their brand to communicate their vision, mission, and ministry identity. 

Branding includes your church or ministry’s logo, name, and slogans. It also includes printed materials, social media, online presence, t-shirts, car stickers, educational materials, and event names.

The importance of branding is that it communicates the ministry, the heart, and mission of the organization. 

We have written a previous blog post discussing church branding in further detail, which you can read here.

Once you have established your church or ministry’s branding, you will want to protect it.

Trademarks vs. copyrights

Protecting your brand protects the identity of your ministry.

As defined by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is a legal term for “any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods and services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of those goods and services.” 

Trademarks are registered so other businesses or ministries are not able to take on the same likeness, whether by name, logo, slogan, etc. 

Trademarking your ministry’s logo and slogan will protect your ministry’s identity.

Copyright, on the other hand, protects the works and content created and published by an individual or organization. 

For example, City Chapel Church registered its logo and name as a trademark. Now they are printing small group curriculum, designed completely in-house and developed by their own staff for the church. They use their logo and name as part of the design for the curriculum. To further protect their ministry, they also copyrighted the small group curriculum so other ministries and organizations cannot replicate the same content. 

The dangers of not trademarking

Lack of identification

The helpful part of developing a brand is having clarity of the organization’s purpose and identity. 

Through effective branding, a church is able to communicate denomination, doctrine, biblical values, worship style, and more. 

What gets very confusing and conflicting to the public is when multiple churches or ministries have a similar name. By obtaining a trademark, it protects from the intentional and unintentional adopting of a name or logo similar to yours. 

This gives the public a clear identity of your ministry and can separate it from the others. They are able to decipher your mission and beliefs through your branding and reputation.

In reference to the Mars Hill Church situation, two churches of the same name and similar logos would have greatly confused the public, making them think they are the same church. This caused major issues with expansion in their case. Had Mars Hill of Seattle wanted to do any public events for the new community, they could have easily been confused for the other church already there. 

Tarnishing of reputation

Church Law & Tax state beautifully, “As a mission-driven organization, a church’s goodwill and reputation are crucial to its ministry. A church relies on its goodwill and reputation for success in advancing its message, attracting congregants, and fulfilling its missionary purpose. Such goodwill and reputation, which can take years of effort and investment to establish, are encapsulated in the church’s trademarks.”

Going without a trademark makes your church or ministry open to other people to take on the name, look of the logo, and more. Allowing this will create confusion and even opportunities for people to tarnish their reputation through their actions. 

Unfortunately, there are people who purposely work to darken the name of a church or ministry. People can do this by creating online websites related to the name of the ministry name to lead people away, stating inappropriate or contrary things against the ministry. They could also create events with the ministry name that do not align with doctrinal beliefs to serve their own agenda. 

Having a trademark works to be able to shut down such websites and events, ensuring some form of legal protection because of the trademark registration.

The dangers of not copyrighting

Just as there are dangers with not registering a trademark, there are also dangers with not copyrighting.

Copyrights protect the author, whether a person or the organization, from infringement. Infringement includes direct copying of or taking ownership for work that does not belong to the one claiming it. 

This issue can happen within the organization and outside of it. We saw a similar situation and released a blog post about it here. 

From the previous example of City Chapel Church, they created a small group curriculum. Along with their trademarked logo and name on the curriculum, they also copyrighted the material and content itself. This protects the church from infringement. Infringement in this situation can look like another church wanting to produce the same content with a very similar look and feel or people making copies of the content and passing it out to other people. 

Having your content copyrighted gives legal protection to the intellectual property of the authors and organization. Infringement on copyrighted material can lead to legal action. 

How to obtain trademarks and copyrights

If you are interested in obtaining a trademark or copyrighting content produced by your organization, one of our best pieces of advice is to seek an attorney. 

You never know what kind of situations can arise, just as Mars Hill Church discovered. 

Lawyers who specialize in this kind of legal work will be a great help in protecting your ministry brand and intellectual property.

We have created a network of attorneys to help churches with their legal situations. Check out our attorney network for help with trademarks and copyrights.

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Another way to obtain a trademark is to submit an application. You can apply with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. While we are not lawyers and can’t offer advice on application, you can look here for help and advice to applying for a trademark. You can apply here.

You are also able to apply for a copyright. You would apply to the United States Copyright Office. Each situation is unique, and you can learn more about what you specifically need here. You can register here.

The story of your church

While trademarks and copyrights can seam a little “mean” or “harsh” since we are all going after sharing the love of Christ, they help clarify and differentiate each ministry. 

Just as God designed each person with unique traits and qualities, so are His churches and ministries. Each church and ministry is a story in the bigger story God is writing. Clarifying your brand and your story helps draw people into the Kingdom. 

The world is not perfect, and safeguarding the identity God has given your church or organization is a great way to steward what He has entrusted to you. 

We desire the most success for your church and ministry. If you have any questions about trademarks and copyrights, please call us at 877-494-4655 for more information. You can also click the button below to have a specialist call you.

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Raul Rivera

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