Company Name Change (July of 2017):
The LONGER explanation (If you care to/choose to read more).....
Many folks continue to ask me for more details about my name-change and my seemingly inordinate battle with infringers, and it's perhaps a cautionary tale for others either in, or considering venturing into business....especially the soapmaking biz. It's more convenient for me to post a response here than have to re-tell the tale over and over. There's education to be gleaned here. Yes, this explanation is lengthy, perhaps a bit rant-y, and yes, I think I've earned the right, in spades, to rant a bit. Proceed reading at your own choice/risk...heh-heh. It's *my* experience, for better or for worse, whether some agree with my name-change or not. Sharing this experience may help others avoid some of the trouble I've had of being infringed-upon, OR, of possibly becoming an infringer yourself.
Many obtain a trademark and believe it automatically wraps you in a legal veil of all-inclusive protection, without fully embracing how much the work & expense of babysitting that new responsibility falls on you to police and enforce....how much work that can actually become, and what can be at stake for you not only in the confusion that multi-business-name-use causes, but damage to your brand & reputation. Outside influences (educated and not) like peers within your industry's community can greatly (in my experience) affect attitudes, tolerance/intolerance of infringement, especially among newcomers in the industry seeking mentorship, and in support of or in conflict with your own efforts to rightfully exercise the protections that trademark law affords you.
Avoidance of infringement trouble can be as simple as your initial well-researched name choice---how unique, unusual, and NON-common your choice is, ...as I found out the hard way. BUT, timing of industry progress can have a big effect on that as well...as I also found out the hard way. If what I share below helps even just one new business owner think twice about, and research harder/more thoroughly their name to trademark, or, prevents even one new business owner from infringing, it's well worth me taking the time to type what I'm going to tell you. It's the only way I can think of to contribute to being *part of a solution*. I've had more experience than the average bear to back up my words. Unfortunately. Perhaps sharing my experiences can finally serve some good, & counteract the negative.
A wee bit of history, to put things into context. I truly think/know "timing" had a lot (if not EVERYTHING) to do with my name-choice-problem and why I now wish I did earlier do-overs, or initial re-thinks on!.....
"Back in the day" :::cue violins::: when I began the company (1994), there was literally only about twelve of us handcrafted soapmakers with these amazing storefronts called "websites" on the newly-developing internet! A highly advantageous time to be on the precipice of this marriage of technology and marketing exposure! I, nor anyone else, I'm sure, anticipated that the handmade soap industry would become so HUGE! If you Google "handmade soap" today, you get over 8,950,000 results! Wow! Very proud to be part of this resurgent craft, and lucky to have been there at the dawn of the internet! My company name-choice "Simply Soap", seemed perfectly logical, no one else was using it (I thoroughly CHECKED!), it reflected my "simple" ingredients & methods, I knew I was in this biz for the long haul, and I loved it enough to want to protect it -- it passed USPTO legal review, I trademarked it in the USA! Ta-da!
Websites proliferated! Internet-commerce BOONED, bringing products to the masses! Unfortunately, trademark infringement BOONED, as well. A LOT of up-and-coming new soapmakers *dreamed-up* and decided they also loved my company name, did NOT check it's status as already-in-use, and chose to use it as their own, or saw it already-in-use and chose to use it anyway...despite this being illegal, ...despite causing lots of confusion, ...and despite it being very easy and FREE to source out if a name is already in use or not. Easily discovered via online trademark database exploration (www.uspto.gov), any search engine, domain registration sites, and (as was later developed) social media, and selling platforms like Etsy.
Over the next 23 years, infringement became (for me) an ever-INCREASING issue, an excessive and unreasonable drain of time, money, patience, & understanding to deal with literally hundreds of infringers, (I'm not exaggerating--LITERALLY hundreds!) ...far more infringers than I suspect most companies ever have to deal with! Many kind customers as well as fellow soapmakers alerted me to infringement they stumbled across on their internet surfing travels (nearly EVERY case was found that way), and THANK YOU again! This always helped me get a jump on nipping infringement in the bud! Still, "Simply Soap" reached a point, I felt, where there was just too much brand-dilution and brand-damage done, despite diligent efforts to keep *fighting the fight* to protect what was legally mine. If not the outright infringement of the name directly, word-for-word, there are now dozens & dozens of variations of the name to the point that the words "Simply" and "Soap" have absolutely nothing unique or special about them at all anymore in the handmade soap world. I've never been ordinary or generic. ;)
One of the last straws for me was having someone ask me if I was that "Simply Soap" they had heard about who made soap that burned a hole in someone's face. Which, of course, I WAS NOT. But even hearing an accusation of this magnitude associated with MY company name, felt deplorable to me!
In another incident, an injured customer contacted me irate & screaming, threatening a lawsuit because soap she bought & used had burned her. When I finally got her to calm down and explain to me her problem and how she obtained the soap, it turned out it was yet another infringer of my company name, who had no valid contact info. on their soap labels on soap they sold at a church faire somewhere in the midwest, the injured party had only "Simply Soap" to go by on the label. The injured customer went searching online for "Simply Soap", found me on Google, and assumed the soap somehow originated with me. When she realized none of the dots connected as far as the soap she described that burned her as coming FROM ME, she changed the direction of her rightful rage, and I too, followed up on pursuing this infringer and horrible-quality soapmaker, and last I heard, that soapmaker abandoned the craft and now had the lawsuit aimed at HER. Still, I wondered how many OTHERS had a bad experience with her that I did not yet even know about, and was perhaps also being associated with ME?!
The investment of time I've had to spend sleuthing and following these type cases up became enormous, often affecting my own production schedule and order fulfillment times. But dealing with it could not be put off. My reputation was at stake!
The VERY final straw came after discovering 38 new infringers in one day alone, on Facebook. I literally threw up my hands, banged my head on a wall, and asked myself, ..."WHY, WHY, WHY am I STILL having to do this? I want to make soap and keep my customers happy, not chase & battle infringers on a near-daily basis!" I then asked myself...."Carol, what's more important?.....the name, or your time?" Dealing with infringers had become a second job for me....a job I had no time or heart for. So I had no choice but to tally the pros & cons of the situation and make a decision...I simply could not continue to go on like that.
The pros were:
I owned the registered trademark on Simply Soap, and had built a very solid 23-year long business following with it. You have little to no leverage whatsoever if you do not go to the time and expense of register trademarking or register copyrighting whatever your material or intellectual property is. So if you really want the upper hand to enforce ownership legally, get it done.
There have been several conscientious soapmakers who very much DID notice infringement of my name and took the time to alert me and be vocal, (you know who you are, and THANK YOU!). To them, I am gratefully indebted and appreciative of their professionalism and ethics, not to neglect mentioning their sisterly empathy for what was happening. For my own part, any and every time I have ever witnessed infringement in ANY industry, I let the infringed-upon individual know I saw it and take screenshots for proof (if online), as well as let the infringer know I recognize it as infringed upon property.
The cons were:
Pursuing infringers & exercising my legal rights, infrequently if ever yielded compensatory rewards. With cases prosecuted & won, most infringers declared bankruptcy to avoid paying anything, and yet I was still stuck with all my own legal fees & lost production time. Nor did prosecution always produce lasting results. Many infringers folded up their shop temporarily but then re-surfaced later, STILL illegally using the name Simply Soap again, or some slightly modified, but still confusing/still infringing version of it.
Infringers infrequently acknowledge their infringement for what it is (at least in my experience.) Many infringers pled ignorance, and I DO believe them.....that they truly are too ignorant to be in-business. Especially when they swore up and down that they researched the name heavily and "found it nowhere". V.i.r.t.u.a.l.l.y. i.m.p.o.s.s.i.b.l.e. I own the domain name simplysoap.com, and have had countless popular venue accounts I've used the name at. Who in business has never Googled the name they are using, and found the obvious in-your-face top results?!?!?! I have encountered a few genuine "honest mistake" infringers, but it was very early on, and they were few and far between. I had one infringer claim that she didn't have a computer, didn't know how to use the internet, so she was incapable of checking other usage of the name and therefore felt she should be immune from being held to infringement law, became exceedingly belligerent. Um...HUH? Right, Lady. The world dances to your lack of technological-savvy or ability to even visit a free library computer. (She, BTW, was one of those who made soap under the name Simply Soap [her labels printed off a computer!] that burned people....that *I*got blamed for, ...thank you very much.)
Some infringers deliberately copied, even lied when caught, telling customers they were a franchise of my business (I did not franchise), or use deceptive tactics like using my own personal name or other contact info. of mine in their website keywords to attempt to gain search engine attention they would not otherwise receive. (Yep--I've seen it all, visible on their "Page Source") I've even had infringers respond to me with"Why reinvent the wheel? Of course I copied, EVERYONE does!" <--Clearly it's not an issue to them until they get caught, and even then do not feel guilt or culpablity. Infringement I've encountered has not just been with my trademarked name, either. I've had word-for-word site verbage stolen, even product photos with my company name visibly showing on the product! You begin to get the feeling that there is nothing sacred left.....anywhere.....! They think others' hard work is a free-for-all.
Peers in your own industry can be ignorant of tradmark and copyright law. I've experienced multiple fellow soapmakers saying to me either directly, or criticizing me in posts on public soapmaking forums "Why would you let a small crafter like this even *get to you*? Just ignore her!" ::jawdrop:: When an injured person is threatening to sue YOU for what someone else (that "small crafter") did, it doesn't matter how large or small their business is, trademark infringement is trademark infringement, it can be enormously damaging, and you're still being threatened with a lawsuit! Tolerance of this by peers only makes it worse! It began to make me embarrassed to say I'm part of the soapmaking community when I heard things like this said by some of my own industry peers!
It's also quite a surprise when you call a supplier-vendor to order ingredients, and the first thing out of their mouth is "Which Simply Soap ARE you? I have 4 listed on file." (<--true incident) Granted, it is not "their job" as a vendor to guard-dog others' trademarks, it's fully the trademark-holder's job to do. But underscored how rampant infringement was/is.
I don't wish this violation on anyone, although as has been proven, the most impactful way of anyone fully understanding how damaging infringement can be, is when it happens to them. I embrace the possibility that as a professional community of peers if we are all intolerant of copyright and trademark infringement, we have so much more power to educate and prevent this from being as usual and accepted an occurrence as it is....and elevate ourselves as a respected industry. I've been part of trade organizations that claim to not tolerate infringement, provide trademark and copyright education resources to members, even require signed waivers of understanding by members on the matter.....yet, that same organization has had more than one soap company with the SAME NAME on their company listings directory, one holding the registered trademark symbol - ®! Practice what is preached?
Brand-dilution and damage are real. The most damaging incidences were for me, as mentioned, people injured by badly-made soap by "other Simply Soaps'", who mistakenly found/contacted me, threatening legal action for their injury & pain, ...only *I* was NOT the "Simply Soap" they purchased from! Needless to say, for me it's been horrifying, infuriating, and de-moralizing to have *my brand* even the slightest bit associated with harming others, often without my knowledge, my name-reputation being repeatedly tarnished behind my back and I often did not even have the opportunity to defend myself or correct the error until I learned of incidences long after they occurred. I worried as much that my many retailer clients would suffer from this false association as well!
I thought long & hard about these pros & cons, argued points back and forth with my husband & business partner, David. It's very hard to give up something that *you* started, is *your* identity, and feels like *your* baby (as I'm sure any business owner will admit)....but the choice to change the name, compared to what I was experiencing with infringement, no longer felt so difficult to make. "Simply Soap" began to no longer feel like *mine* anymore. It had been sullied and made dirty by others using and abusing it....at least that's how *I* felt. In the Big Picture, I began to rationalize that it was just a name. I was not choosing to give up my business, just re-name it. So, sad though I felt, it actually felt like a sort of joyful unburdening when I DID make the decision to change the name, ...though it took several months during site re-building to willfully cut that umbilical cord...heh heh, Kind of a re-birth though ...
By now, if you've read this far (and thank you), I hope you have an inkling and can appreciate how infringement can and does have far-reaching, unfair results & damaging effects...often beyond the scope of what one has control over, trademark-ownership or not. I'd had enough. I just want to make soap and continue to keep my customers happy. I'm a low-drama sort of gal, and I operate on the principle that your energy manifests into what you make and put out into the world. All that infringement-management was making my life miserable, I resented unsupportive fellow-soapers who actually criticized me for defending my name and enabled infringers, and I was tired of feeling angry about it all the time.
What I wish I'd known to begin with:
- In hindsight (good ol' hindsight).......the name Simply Soap is so common & logical a name to choose for handmade natural soap. T'were I to do it over, and had the foresight of knowing what I know now, anticipating how LARGE the industry would become well-beyond us twelve original soapmakers' presence on the 'net, I would have chosen a far more non-simplistic, non-common-ish name. Lollapalooza Latherworks has a nice ring to it! Perhaps I would have better-anticipated the likelihood of others wanting to choose the name as a result of that flood of newcomers to the industry...but how could I have known?. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But hindsight is always 20/20, eh? This still does not excuse infringers, however. My or anyone's name-choice strength or weakness does not make it more or less eligible for infringing-upon in the eyes of the law.
This is an excellent YouTube presentation on trademarking with an emphasis on the importance of name complexity/uniqueness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJheM-nIQD0
- Many who start in the handmade soapmaking industry are hobbyist kitchen crafters with no business experience or acumen whatsoever, who do not know, nor choose to make it their business to know the legalities of hanging a shingle & being a legitimate business entity, respectful of other business entities. Many mistakenly assume that because they are a small business, or only sell at occasional craft shows or church bazaars, that trademark law does not apply to them. Pleading "ignorance" or "small enterprise" does not excuse trademark infringement, however. Nor is it the trademark holder's obligation to *teach*their infringers, nor wait for them to fix the infringement, or leisurely decide upon a new name and re-do their business identity/branding before stopping active use of the infringed property. If you are in an industry filled with people of a similar description, you may be more apt to to experience infringement as well. Check out this page Infringement for resource links on Trademark and Copyright Law, as well as a link to *FREE*small business set-up/mentoring/advice.
Everyone has an opinion: ;)
Some colleagues have openly expressed their opinion of my name-change as "letting infringers win" , and therefore "setting a bad example" by ME changing, instead of the infringers. While I feel no need to defend or justify my name-change to anyone (I am only using this page to "explain" my action for those wondering and who keep asking), I sincerely hope & expect these colleagues exercise at least the same assertion of opinion in their intolerance of infringement, as they do in their assessment of my handling of it in my situation. I'll expect them to call infringers out every single time they recognize them, and not avert their eyes to the obvious, call-attention-to & prevent infringers from participating in organized conferences, guilds or other trade forums as a consequence of violating trademark law. And never belittle or make light of a colleague who does stand up for protecting trademark rights. To not do so is the REAL "letting infringers win", and "setting a bad example". A strong industry assertively does not tolerate infringement, provides and encourages education, nurtures a more respectful community.
As for suggesting I am "giving up", anyone who knows me, knows.......I'm hardly a quitter, for decades I wouldn't give up for ANYTHING on principle alone; I have spent hours, days, weeks, months defending my trademark. Some have called me "crazy" to now go to all the work of re-naming/re-branding EVERYTHING associated with my company, and yes, it IS an incredible heck of a lot of WORK! But compared to 23+ years of infringement-battling that I clearly see is not going to stop and requires a beastly amount of time to police ...I selfishly, perhaps just plain wisely now, know my time and goals are more important and valuable to me than continuing a fight I can't win in the current atmosphere. This beastly LONG explanation hopefully illustrates *why*. I've been blessed with a loyal customer base and trust that a little thing like a name-change isn't going to chase them all away.
Some retailer clients have shared with me that they originally & specifically found and chose to offer my products in their shops BECAUSE the name "Simply Soap" fit their image/message/mission statement, and I very much appreciate that aspect! I respect your motives (they were my own in my original name selection!). I hope you can find beauty & clarity-of-representation in "Ancient Alchemy" as well! And don't forget, we also offer *private labeling* -- your company name, your logo on labels! My motives to change the name due to possible brand-damage is as much in your interest as it is in mine if you carry our soap in your stores!
I will never discourage anyone from protecting their copyrighted or trademarked properties. I just know my situation with "Simply Soap" was a highly unusual one due to the above-mentioned factors. I've never heard of another company.....EVER..... having SO MANY infringers. If you can draw anything from my experience, and I hope you do, choose as unique and well-researched a name in the first place, and if you can, project what the future may hold for your industry's & company's growth potential and name-usage, the caliber & conscientiousness of individuals also in your industry and the likelihood of them practicing professional behavior, and hopefully you'll avoid living my infringement *adventure*.
So how can this mess be avoided???
Helpful links to trademark and copyright law sites, and new business start-up help: Infringement
I strongly encourage you to choose a name NOT used by someone in the same industry, who is in another country, either! While I only trademarked Simply Soap in the USA, there are a number of other Simply Soaps in other countries, and global internet customers were often confused by this, wondering if it was a franchised extension of my company. There's plenty of denial from those "other companies", but it's real! And they know it. My Simply Soap was in existence long before ANY of them were. True, I did not trademark in a multiple of other countries, could not afford to at the time at $400 per country and many multiple countries with at least one Simply Soap!
Trademark law honors trademarking *per country* and here is a good article on the topic with an updated point of view:
...but more to the point, regardless of trademark law,...the internet, social media, and hundreds of selling platforms like Etsy etc. BRING US ALL TOGETHER, rather than separate us *by country*...so multi-use of a name becomes especially obvious and confusing. Avoid using another's established name, even if they are in another country, in the same industry, just from an ethics point of view. Be distinct. You'll be glad you did! Aptly stated in that article link above: QUOTE: "Even if you think you've got your trademark protected, it may be vulnerable overseas. Before the Internet, that may not have mattered so much. Today, however, someone in another country using your trademark could be as damaging as someone opening a store with the same name as yours in your own town."
Check the USA Trademark Database: www.uspto.gov, or the database in your own country of business or countries in which you'd like to trademark/use your name. Check domain registrations, search engines, social media and online selling venues.
When a social media site won't allow you to choose a name because it's already *in-use*...BELIEVE THEM! And doing a lame *work-around* like using your own first name + the trademarked name, example: "FiFi's Simply Soap" still includes the trademarked name, causes confusion, and *IS* prosecutable! Just DON'T DO IT! Don't you WANT to be unique, and most importantly...respected?!?!?!
As mentioned at the top, with this name-change, my soaps, my policies, my methods, ....nor *I*, have changed...just the name you find the soap labeled under, which still contains all of our simple ingredients, and the love with which I make them! And c'mon....admit it, isn't the new name kind of perfectly fitting??? *I* love it, ...feels like I've got some of my *unique* back! I anticipate getting more new projects done and faster order fulfillment with time I WON'T be having to spend chasing infringers! I call that a *win*! I think you will, too!
I may always be "the real Simply Soap" to many of you, as well as myself....and thanks for that. I'll continue to retain the domain name simplysoap.com and redirect it to here, in case you forget the new name. It may even take ME awhile to stop & think, remember my *new* company name when asked....23-year old habits die hard. But this is afterall, just soap we're talking about.....not world peace. If my story helps YOU avert trouble for yourself, grow stronger ties within the industry, then GREAT, maybe I am able to help turn some of the negative into a positive!
So.....short story looooong, ...that's why *the name-change*! Ancient Alchemy -- "Magical transformations of ingredients into something altogether different". Oils turned into soap! It's a name I previously trademarked and have been using since 2003 for one of our soap lines....a name familiar to you regulars! It has just been re-trademarked, officially registered as of October 24, 2017. I'm excited to move on, and hope the name-change doesn't seem quite so strange, now that I've told you why I did it.
On a fresh & fun note,.....I decided to pair the Ancient Alchemy name-change with a new website look! Hope you like it and find it easy to navigate! Please remember to bookmark us! If you find any problems or wish to just drop me a note, I'm at: firstname.lastname@example.org
SOAP ON, Good People!
- belonging to the very distant past
- a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.
Thanks for your interest and continued support!
Owner & Soapstress, Ancient Alchemy
For anyone wanting to learn more about trademark and copyright law, as well as new business start-up help, here are some helpful links at this page: Infringement
If you have any particularly great links or new info. on the subject you'd like to share, please let me know and I may post your links, upon review...thanks!