Are You in REALTOR® Trademark Compliance?
As you review your marketing campaigns and make plans for the next year, it is a good idea to make sure you are following the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) trademark guidelines.
In the past two months, NAR copied Arizona REALTORS® on several emails notifying members of trademark violations. Members are understandably upset—once you have established your “digital identity” with a clever domain, website and printed materials to support it all, it can be frustrating and sometimes difficult to change.
In one case, a member asked, “I entered that email address in my application; why wasn’t I told it was non-compliant at that time?” That is a fair question. Unfortunately, just as members may neglect to review trademark guidelines in a hurry to get started, association staff may also overlook trademark problems as they rush to make a member’s benefits available. Ultimately, it is the member’s responsibility to comply.
What are common problems?
Most problems occur in email addresses, web domains and business names. Some example of correct and incorrect usage may be found in this AAR blog post which has links to NAR’s detailed trademark guidelines and my email. I am happy to share digital marketing ideas with members, as well as consult on trademark questions.
How did NAR, AAR or my local association find out?
Sometimes an association staff person notices a violation in advertising. More often though, the problem is reported by an observant REALTOR®. Trademark rules not only protect our right to use it, but misuse can provide an unjust marketing advantage. Who wouldn’t want to be TheBestRealtorInArizona@gmail.com?
What happens if I’m in violation?
The important thing is to acknowledge the problem and assure NAR, AAR and your local association that you are cooperating. Your associations understand that it could take time to make necessary changes. Here are the steps you should take:
- Set up a new, compliant domain and/or email address.
- Forward your non-compliant website and/or email address to the new ones. Be sure to have an autoreply message to senders telling them that your email address has changed.
- As you use up your business cards and other printed materials, substitute your new domain and email address.
- After a year or so, web traffic will switch to the new domain and messages to the old email address will trickle away to nothing. You can keep the domain and address dormant or let them lapse.
How can I report a violation?
NAR coordinates trademark enforcement with state and local associations; read more here. The best place to start is by contacting the local association of the member you feel is in violation.
The NAR Trademark Protection Coordinator may be contacted at email@example.com.
UPDATE December 31, 2015
A member contacted us to find out if a specific usage would be appropriate: “firstname.lastname@example.org.” When I consulted with NAR, I learned this is not appropriate because “ron” must be directly associated with “realtor,” not “az.” In other words, your name must be the closest thing to “realtor,” not a location or descriptor. An approved usage would be “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Remember, “realtor” is always closest to your name.