Thursday, April 12, 2012

New Startup Wants To Make Registering Trademark Online As Simple As Getting Domain Name

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Trademarkia is an online search engine that helps small-business owners sift through the more than six million names, slogans and logos that have been trademarked in America since 1870. The Web site, which went live in September 2009, grafts a user-friendly interface onto a colossal database, built with free information provided by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It also serves as a lure, steering visitors who want to apply for their own trademarks to the law firm of Trademarkia’s co-founder, Raj Abhyanker, and offering other fee-based services such as domain registration, logo design and automated alerts that notify trademark holders when marks similar to their own are filed.

Employees: Eight full-time. In addition, in the last three years, Trademarkia has generated enough business to help Mr. Abhyanker’s law firm grow from a solo practice to an international operation with more than 190 employees, including more than 60 lawyers.

Founders: Mr. Abhyanker, 36, Trademarkia’s chief executive, is a lawyer and serial entrepreneur who previously founded FatDoor, a social networking site for neighbors. (In 2007, Mr. Abhyanker was ousted as chief executive of FatDoor, which later transformed into The Dealmap and was purchased by Google in 2011.) He founded Trademarkia with Dongxia Liu, 39, a software developer and the former vice president of engineering at Imagekind. Ms. Liu now serves as chief technology officer.

Location: Trademarkia is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., in the same building as Mr. Abhyanker’s law firm, which also has satellite offices in India, China and France.

Pitch: “We want to make applying for a trademark as easy as getting a domain name,” Mr. Abhyanker said.

Traction: Based on the strength of Trademarkia, which gets nearly three million page views each month, Mr. Abhyanker expects his legal practice to file for more than 13,000 trademarks this year (about 10,000 American and 3,000 overseas). “We’re basically the law firm that represents the most small businesses in terms of intellectual property,” he said.

Revenue: In 2011, according to Mr. Abhyanker, Trademarkia brought in $1.3 million in revenue and the law firm brought in $5.5 million, excluding government filing fees that passed through both companies. He said he expected both figures to grow by 50 percent this year.

Financing: No outside money. “I had a bad taste about venture capital,” Mr. Abhyanker explained, after losing control of FatDoor. He bootstrapped Trademarkia with about $25,000 in seed money. As for the law firm, he added, that began in 2005 with $1,000 from his savings, a small office over a Palo Alto rug store, a used desk from Craigslist and a Web site he built himself. While he doesn’t plan to pursue venture capital, “I’d like to have investors that are other lawyers,” he said, adding that, he’s considering using crowdfunding from California-licensed attorneys.

Marketing: Trademarkia spends roughly $1 million each year on paid search advertising, mostly Google AdWords. Even so, Mr. Abhyanker said, most of Trademarkia’s traffic relies on word of mouth and in-bound links from other sites, such as Wikipedia.

Competition: Online rivals include LegalZoom, the legal documents company that offers a smorgasbord of services, and The Trademark Company, which offers registration packages starting at $149, undercutting Trademarkia’s basic offering by $10. Competitors also include big international law firms, such as Greenberg Traurig and K&L Gates, which have dominated the trademark space.

Challenge: Mr. Abhyanker isn’t shy about his ambitions. “Our goal, in the end, is to build the biggest law firm in the world,” he said. He wants to do that in two ways: first, by making other types of public data – including patents, copyrights and incorporations – “more interesting and accessible” to consumers. He also plans to rebrand Trademarkia with a new name, LegalForce, and wants to pivot the company into a hybrid with both a strong online presence and brick-and-mortar storefronts serving mostly business owners, available for franchise by independent attorneys. He envisions the latter as “the Apple store meets H&R Block” and hopes to have between five and 10 of them open within 18 months.

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