Black Women’s Business Network Helps Break Down Trademark Barriers
Shanae Jones ran her hip-hop-inspired herbal tea business, Ivy’s Tea Co., for four years before filing for trademark registration.
It wasn’t that she didn’t want to, she said. She just couldn’t afford it.
The registration helped Jones later win a trademark infringement lawsuit, protecting his brand and his livelihood. Realizing that not all black female entrepreneurs are able to afford the cost of trademark registration, she then funded a grant to help others obtain that safety net.
“With so much conversation around the theft of ideas from small independent creators, I thought we should at least talk about the importance of copyright and trademarks,” Jones said. “That’s when I said I’d like to sponsor a branded grant to give another black woman the comfort I feel knowing I’ll win my case if I ever have to sue.”
Jones was the first person to receive a business grant from the nonprofit Buy From A Black Woman. She decided to give back by funding one of the group’s first branded scholarships.
The grant gives black women starting businesses funds to apply for trademark registration. The educational videos provide information about why the recordings are needed, giving them resources, access and understanding that the group says is otherwise lacking in the predominantly white and male intellectual property field.
“Really, one of the biggest obstacles is lack of knowledge and lack of resources,” said group founder Nikki Porcher. “So Buy From A Black Woman is really trying to fill that void in those two areas for those companies.”
“The problem is the price”
Jones continues to fundraise for the Buy From A Black Woman grants. Trademark grants cover all costs and legal fees associated with obtaining registration.
A trademark registration costs $350 per class of goods or services, that is, categories of goods or uses. Hiring a lawyer or enrolling in more than one class can add up.
The cost of trademark registrations is the biggest hurdle people of color face when seeking protection, said intellectual property attorney Kimra Major-Morris of Major-Morris Law LLC.
Buy From A Black Woman’s separate trade grants of $2,500 each can also help gain brand protection. Trademarks identify the source of goods or services and provide legal protection for a mark.
The next round of grant applications will go live in August. Recently, Buy From A Black Woman awarded three Brand Grants.
“It’s a problem I don’t know the solution to other than companies like Buy From A Black Woman,” said Shymane Robinson, founder and CEO of Chicago-based copyright firm True Lawyer LLC. , brands and small business development. “The problem is the price. They can’t afford the cost.
Racial Wealth Gap
Raising awareness of the importance of protecting intellectual property through trademark registrations can help black business owners close the racial wealth gap, Robinson said.
“If it’s not protected, someone can steal it from us,” she said. “We lose a lot of wealth just because we don’t own our creations and ideas. If we start owning our creations and ideas by protecting our intellectual property, that would close that gap because we now own them.
The wealth gap refers to long-standing wealth disparities between different racial and ethnic groups. White families had significantly higher net worth than all other racial and ethnic groups in 2019, according to Federal Reserve data.
Porcher started Buy From A Black Woman around early 2016 with a blog where she wrote weekly about buying from a new Black woman-owned business.
She had attended a trade event in the Atlanta area where she was the only black person and noticed others were selling products like a $20 lip balm.
“I just thought it was really outrageous that the $20 lip balm was gone and there were no black manufacturers in the building,” Porcher said. “I needed to do something about it.”
Having worked in nonprofits, Porcher turned the blog into one, with the idea of donating funds to help black women start their businesses. The move seemed natural – Porcher was already receiving contributions to run his blog. She said no other organization gives grants just to black women business owners.
The former blog has grown into an online directory of black women-owned businesses and five types of grants. Porcher is also launching a microcredit fund.
Nicole Gaither, Intellectual Property Partner at Parlatore Law Group, creates educational videos for the Buy From A Black Woman website. The videos help community members understand their business and legal needs, she said.
Educational resources from black women to black women create another level of comfort for entrepreneurs, Porcher said.
Gaither, who is black, agreed on the benefits of collaborating black women.
“There are some things where, maybe, because I understand it, I can explain it in terms for a reviewer or someone from the US PTO to understand, like ‘that’s why that word is OK for us to use and it won’t be a problem,” she said. “I find a lot of my clients prefer that aspect of working with someone who looks like them and understands them that way.”