Shanae Jones ran her hip-hop-inspired herbal tea business, Ivy’s Tea Co., for four years before she filed for a 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 her brand and her livelihood. Realizing not all Black women entrepreneurs are able to bear the cost of a trademark registration, she went on to fund a grant to help others obtain that safety net.
“With so much conversation around the theft of ideas from small and independent creators, I thought at the very least we should be talking about the importance of copyrights and trademarks,” Jones said. “That’s when I said I’d like to sponsor a trademark grant to give another Black woman the comfort that I feel knowing that I will win my lawsuit if I 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 trademark grants.
The grant gives Black women starting businesses funds to apply for a trademark registration. Educational videos provide information on why the registrations are necessary, giving them resources, access, and understanding that the group says is otherwise lacking in the mostly white, male intellectual property field.
“Really one of the biggest barriers are lack of knowledge and lack of resources,” the group’s founder, Nikki Porcher, said. “So, Buy From A Black Woman is really trying to fill that gap for both of those areas for these businesses.”
‘The Issue Is Price’
Jones continues to fundraise for Buy From A Black Woman grants. The trademark grants cover the entire cost and legal fees associated with getting a registration.
A trademark registration costs $350 per class of goods or services, meaning categories of products or uses. Hiring an attorney or registering in more than one class can add up.
The cost of trademark registrations are the largest barrier people of color face when seeking the protection, intellectual property attorney Kimra Major-Morris of Major-Morris Law LLC said.
Buy From A Black Woman’s separate business grants of $2,500 each also can help with obtaining trademark protection. Trademarks identify the source of goods or services and provide legal protection for a brand.
The next round of grant applications go live in August. Recently Buy From A Black Woman gave three trademark grants.
“This is an issue that I don’t know what the solution is other than companies similar to Buy From A Black Woman,” said Shymane Robinson, the founder and CEO of True Lawyer LLC in Chicago, a firm specializing in copyrights, trademarks and small business development. “The issue is price. They cannot afford the cost.”
Racial Wealth Gap
Spreading 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’re losing a lot of wealth just through the lack of owning our creations and ideas. If we start owning our creations and ideas by having our intellectual property protected, that would shorten that gap because now we have ownership.”
The wealth gap refers to the long-standing wealth disparities between different racial and ethnic groups. White families had a significantly higher net worth than all other racial and ethnic groups in 2019, according to data from the Federal Reserve.
Porcher started Buy From A Black Woman around early 2016 with a blog where she wrote every week about a purchase from a new Black woman-owned business.
She had attended an Atlanta-area business event where she was the only Black person and noticed others doing well with sales of products like $20 lip balm.
“I just thought that was really outrageous that $20 lip balm was gone and there were no Black makers in the building anywhere,” Porcher said. “I needed to do something about it.”
Having worked in nonprofits, Porcher turned the blog into one, with the idea of giving funds to help Black women get their businesses off the ground. The move seemed natural—Porcher was already receiving contributions to keep her blog going. She said no other organization was giving grants only to Black women business owners.
The former blog has grown to an online directory of Black women-owned businesses and five types of grants. Porcher also is launching a micro-loan fund.
Nicole Gaither, an intellectual property partner at Parlatore Law Group, creates educational videos for Buy From A Black Woman’s website. The videos help members of the community understand their business and legal adviser needs, she said.
Educational resources from Black women to Black women creates another level of comfort for entrepreneurs, Porcher said.
Gaither, who is Black, agreed on the benefits of Black women working together.
“There’s certain things where, possibly, because I have an understanding of it, I can explain it in terms to get an examiner or someone at the U.S. PTO to understand it, like ‘this is why this word is OK for us to use and it’s not going to be an issue,’” she said. “I find that a lot of my clients prefer that aspect of working with someone who looks like them and understands them in that way.”