Platforms like Shopify, Stripe, and WordPress have done a lot to build essential business building tools like storefront management, accepting payments, and building accessible websites for businesses even on the tightest budgets. modest. But some very key aspects of starting a business remain expensive and time-consuming businesses that can be prohibitive for small businesses – but which, if ignored, can cause a business to fail before it even breaks. really starts up.
Trademark registration is one such concern, and Toronto-based startup Heirlume just raised C $ 1.7 million (~ $ 1.38 million) to fix the issue with a Trademark registration powered by a machine that turns the process into a self-service affair that won’t break the budget. Its AI-powered trademark search will signal whether the terms may conflict with existing trademarks in the United States and Canada, even if the government’s official trademark search tools, and even leading law firms. , cannot.
Heirlume’s primary goal is to level the playing field for small business owners, who have typically been far outmatched when it comes to trademark disputes.
“I am a high-level intellectual property lawyer specializing in trademarks and have practiced in a traditional model, my own firm for over a decade, serving clients large and small,” explained Julie MacDonnell, co-founder of Heirlume, in an interview. “So providing large multinationals with a large amount of branding and internal legal, then primarily serving small business clients when faced with a cease-and-desist or counterfeit issue.” These are the customers who really hold my heart: It’s incredibly difficult to have a small business owner who literally cries tears on the phone with you because they just lost their brand or business overnight. And there was nothing I could do to help because the law just wasn’t on their side, because they had neglected to register their marks to own them.
In part, there’s a lack of awareness of what it takes to register and own a trademark, MacDonnell says. Many entrepreneurs who are just starting to look for a domain name at first, for example, and some will pay large sums to register these domains. What they don’t realize, however, is that this is essentially a rental, and if you don’t have the mark to protect that domain, the actual owner of the mark can potentially take it down. But even though business owners realize that a trademark should be their first stop, the barriers to getting one are considerable.
“There was a huge, insurmountable hurdle when it came to brand protection for these business owners,” she said. “And that’s just not fair. All other business services typically a small business owner can access. Incorporating a business or even insurance, for example, owning and purchasing insurance for your business is somewhat affordable and accessible. But brand ownership is not. “
Heirlume cuts the cost of registering the trademark from several thousand dollars to just under $ 600 for the first, and to just $ 200 for each supplement thereafter. The startup also offers a “ buy now, pay later ” option for very small businesses, backed by Clearbanc, meaning that even businesses that start with minimal resources can take steps to protect their brand right away. departure.
In its early days, Heirlume also offered its main trademark search function free of charge. This provides a trademark search engine that works in US and Canadian government databases, which can not only tell you if your desired trademark is available or already owned, but also if it is likely to be obtained with success, given other conflicts that may arise that are totally ignored by the native brand database search portals.
Heirlume uses machine learning to identify these potential conflicts, which not only helps users research their brands, but also significantly reduces the workload behind the scenes, helping them reduce costs and pass on the benefits of those improved margins. to its customers. This is how it can achieve better results than even custom applications from traditional companies, while doing it at scale and at reduced costs.
Another advantage of using machine data processing and classification is that on the government trademark office side, the systems look for highly organized and organized data sets that are difficult to obtain even for trained people. consistently. Human error in simple data entry can lead to massive backlogs, notes MacDonnell, even leading to entire applications being rejected and restarted.
“There are all kinds of data sets for those [trademark requirement] settings, ”she said. “Basically, we synthesize it all, and the point of machine learning is to make sure that applications are fully compliant with government rules. We actually had a senior brand reviewer who came in to work for us, very happy that we were fixing the issues that were causing backlogs in government. She said if Heirlume can get to a point where the applications submitted are perfect, there will be no backlog with the government.
Improving efficiency within trademark registration bodies means one less sticking point for small business owners when they set out to start a business, which means more economic activity and more globally on the rise. MacDonnell ultimately hopes Heirlume can help reduce friction to the point where trademark ownership is at the forefront of the business process, even before the domain is registered. Heirlume has a partnership with Google Domains for this purpose, which will eventually see if a domain name is potentially trademarked included in Google Domain search results.
This initial seed funding includes participation from Backbone Angels, as well as the collective Future Capital, Angels of Many and MaRS IAF, as well as angel investors such as Daniel Debow, Bertrand Cesvet from Sid Lee and more. MacDonnell notes that just as their goal was to bring more access and fairness to small business owners when it comes to trademark protection, the startup has also been very intentional in building their team and board. ceilings. MacDonnell, along with CTO co-founders Sarah Guest and Dave McDonnell, aims to build the largest tech company with a tech team predominantly identifying women. Its investor mix includes 65% female or under-represented investors, and MacDonnell says it was a very intentional choice that extended the duration of the increase and even led to some large companies being denied interest. of Silicon Valley.
“We want under-represented founders funded, and the best way to ensure this change is to empower under-represented investors,” she said. “I think we all have a responsibility to do something. We all use hashtags right now, and hashtags aren’t enough […] Our CTO is a woman, and she is often the only woman in the room. We are committed to ensuring that women in tech are no longer the only people in the room. “