Billion-Dollar Companies And Their Trademarks

Lisa Wright,

Are you looking to grow your e-commerce business or startup globally? Whether you plan to go all in and attempt to expand into a billion-dollar company or simply wish to enter a new market, trademarks and intellectual property protection are a vital element to your business plan and growth strategy - regardless of the size of your business! 

Known as ‘unicorns’(for their mythological rareness) in the startup ecosystem, unicorns are privately held startup companies with a value of over USD$1 billion by public or private market investment. 

Aileen Lee, the founder of seed-stage fund Cowboy Ventures, has been attributed with coining this definition seven years ago in her 2013 TechCrunch article. While unicorns are found globally, they are chiefly clustered around California’s Silicon Valley - think Airbnb, Pinterest, and Uber. Other variations have appeared over the years, such as ‘decacorns’ (valued at over USD$10 billion), ‘hectorcorns’ (valued at over USD$100 billion) and ‘narwhals’ (Canadian tech companies worth more than C$1billion). 

While it is true that billion-dollar companies have many differences, one thing that they have in common is a strong brand image and a commitment to protecting their IP.

Size doesn’t matter when it comes to brand strength

Whether you are a billion-dollar company, SME, or early stage startup, a strong brand supported by registered trademarks can help to raise the overall valuation of a business, lead to a higher market share, and increase turnover and profit.

What’s less well understood by many entrepreneurs and business owners, however, is that creating and registering a legally strong trademark requires different preparations (and offers different protections) from the more generalized process of developing a strong brand image.

Strength in trademark law

There are 5 main categories of trademarks used in trademark law to determine protectability, ranked here in order of strength:

  1. Fanciful 
  2. Arbitrary
  3. Suggestive
  4. Descriptive
  5. Generic

The more distinctive the trademark the stronger and more enforceable it is under trademark law. You should always seek legal opinion when considering applying for trademarks, but as a first step, running a trademark clearance search to determine the distinctiveness of your brand candidate is easy with our AI Clearance Search tool. This will enable you to understand the candidate word or words’ strength by breaking the trademark down into its component parts and comparing those parts against any matching marks. Reports can also be customized, downloaded, and shared externally.

A trademark attorney can then give you a legal opinion on the protectability of your trademark candidate and will assist you at the trademark application stage.

Why is brand protection through trademarking so important?

By trademarking your brand name and associated logos, you can attempt to create a good and trusted reputation for your business. A distinctive brand can increase recognition and lead customers and prospects to automatically associate positive qualities with your company - leading to an increase in brand awareness and an all-important boost to your brand’s image!

Crucially, however, you can use trademarks to prevent brand infringement by third parties. Fighting counterfeits, which invariably lead to customers associating bad quality with your business name, is made much easier with a registered portfolio of intellectual property assets.

Is brand protection the secret to startup success?

Here is an overview of the trademark activity of three savvy startup unicorns and narwhals who, despite their differences, all share a strong brand image and a commitment to protecting their IP through trademarks!

1. SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (trading as SpaceX) is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company. Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, its goal is the reduction of space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. According to CNBC, SpaceX is worth over USD$33 billion today.

Aside from its space transportation activity, SpaceX is also involved in drug research (gravity experiments) and sells a wide variety of branded goods in its online store - from clothing and soft toys to water bottles and umbrellas! So it is not surprising that the e-commerce business has also taken a broad scope with its trademark strategy and registered its marks with 20 different registries in 8 different Nice Classes - 42 (Research and Development), 43 (Hotels and Restaurants), 38 (Communication) , 9 (Electrical and Scientific Devices), 12 (Vehicles), 39 (Transportation and Storage), 41 (Education and Entertainment) and 36 (Insurance and Financial).

SpaceX trademark activity

According to our preliminary trademark screening and business intelligence tool ExaMatch, the owner, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, has over 35 live marks (valid and pending) today with the mark text SPACEX. 

The top registry is the USPTO (13.2%), followed jointly by Argentina’s INPI and Brazil’s INPI (7.9%). The top 3 classes are Class 9 with a ratio of 30.3% and Classes 38 and 43, each having the same 27.6% ratio. 

Top product descriptions include: Satellite communications services (Class 38),  Pharmaceutical research and development (Class 42) and Providing access to global computer networks (Class 38).

2. Capsule

Capsule was founded in 2015 in New York by the current CEO Eric Kinariwala, with the purpose of creating a modern pharmacy that works for everyone. Capsule, which offers its pharmacy services by text or app, (with free courier delivery right to your door within a window of two hours) has seen a surge in its signups since the Coronavirus crisis. 

Capsule has raised some USD$270 million today and had an estimated USD$100 million in 2019. Its lead investors are Glade Brook Capital, TVC Capital, and Thrive Capital.

Capsule trademark activity

At the time of writing Capsule, Corporation owns 2 valid CAPSULE trademarks, both registered with the USPTO in Classes 9 (Electrical and Scientific Devices) and 35 (Advertising and Business). 

Given the nature of its delivery service tech business it is not surprising that its top product descriptions in Class 35 are: Ordering services for third parties, Retail or wholesale services for pharmaceutical, veterinary and sanitary preparations and medical supplies, Advertising services relating to pharmaceuticals for the treatment of diabetes, Advertising relating to pharmaceutical products and in-vivo imaging products. The top product description in Class 9 is: Computer software applications, downloadable.

3. Shopify

The Canadian multinational e-commerce company and narwhal Shopify was launched in 2006 by co-founders Tobias Lütke, Daniel Weinand, and Scott Lake. It has its headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario. Shopify is also the name of its proprietary e-commerce platform for retail point-of-sale systems and online stores. Forbes reports that Shopify has a market capitalization of USD$42.3 billion (and is now bigger than other well-known tech brands, such as Twitter, Square, Lyft and Snap).

Shopify trademark activity

Shopify clearly puts its brand protection strategy front and center as its trademark portfolio is large. Shopify Inc currently owns over 115 live (valid and pending) trademarks that contain the mark text SHOPIFY. The top class is Class 42 (Research and Development) with a ratio share of 18.4%, closely followed by Class 9 (18.1%) and Class 35 (17.4%).

Shopify is fast becoming one of the most popular e-commerce platforms in India and this is reflected today by the fact that India’s IPI is the top registry (26 marks), followed by Mexico’s IMPO (16 marks) and Brazil’s IMPI (10 marks). Top product descriptions include Creating and maintaining websites (Class 42) and Software and Computer e-commerce software (Class 9).

Budget-friendly trademark search

You don’t need to be a billionaire to maximize your brand’s strength or boost your brand’s image. Our new flexible and affordable pay-as-you-go AI trademark clearance search tool enables you to run your trademark search across your choice of 10* country registries, and web and common law data, to safely find all similar trademarks to your candidate - in as little as half the time - all for just for $129.99!

Algorithmic scoring of name linguistics and product similarity raises your brand candidate’s biggest potential threats to the top of your report – making your trademark clearance search dramatically faster and easier!

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* Choose from 176 country registries! We automatically include trademarks of international organizations (WIPO, EUIPO and ARIPO) in your search results for you. China (CN SAIC) database is not offered via pay per search.