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2 Things To Know About Trademarks Before Selling Homemade Goods Online

A number of marketplace websites have popped up to make it easy for you to sell homemade goods inspired by your own designs or your favorite musicians, shows or movies. But if you're wanting to sell things online, you also need to understand some basics about trademark law in order to protect your own designs and make sure you don't infringe on the trademarks of others and wind up on the wrong side of the table from a trademark attorney.

Stating "Inspired by" and Rewording Don't Excuse You from Trademark Infringement

Say you've made some adorable necklaces bearing the logo of some famous ninja master turtles. You might think that you can sell these toys online as long as you either write "inspired by" or the more generic name of "fighting turtles" instead of the real name. Surely clarifying that you're not an authorized seller is enough protection?

Unfortunately, that's not how it works. If you are using clearly trademarked images -- such as the distinctive font of the turtle logo -- then you are still violating a trademark. This can even extend to products that aren't as clearly tied to the trademark but feature a trademarked image in conjunction. For example, mermaid cookies with blond hair and a pink top might still be considered a violation if there's the logo of a certain red-haired mermaid drawing company put in the background.

To keep yourself safe, only create your own designs. Sure, customers will try to push you in the direction of mimicking trademarked designs for a lower cost. But it's not worth a lawsuit from the trademark holder. And don't think that being a small seller will protect you from a large multinational company. Those companies often send trademark attorneys after smaller sellers just to prove a point.

Trademark and Copyright Your Own Designs

If you've gone the wiser route of creating your own product designs, make sure you take the necessary steps to protect said the designs from other online sellers and large retail companies who have been caught stealing from small sellers before. A copyright and trademark attorney might seem like an unnecessary expense but it will pay off in the long run when you have product security.

What's the difference between a trademark and a copyright? A trademark usually protects words or symbols that show that an item is your original design. This can include your company logo or simply a unique design that frequently adorns your products and is thus easily tied to your company. Copyrights apply to the actual designs themselves such as the graphic art on a t-shirt.