Do You Need to Trademark Your Business Name?

Do You Need to Trademark Your Business Name?

When we talk about a trademark, we’re essentially discussing a badge of origin. It’s a sign that points to where a product or service comes from. This could be the name of your business, the name of one of your products, your logo, or even the design on your product packaging. When you start doing business and put your business name or logo out there, you are already using it as a trademark. But, for those who want to fortify their position, often turn to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to formally register their trademark.

Why Should You Be Trademarking Your Business Name?

There’s something to be said about the organic protection you get just by using your business name. This is called common law trademark protection. If someone in your town starts using a similar name for a similar business, you might have a good shot at asking them to stop. But what if you’re not just a local bakery or bookstore? What if you sell products online to people all over the country?

That’s where registering your trademark comes in handy. Here are some reasons why:

Coast-to-Coast Protection 

Once registered, your trademark is recognized across the entire U.S.

Public Declaration 

Your ownership claim and the start date of using your trademark will be recorded for everyone to see in the USPTO’s database.

Visibility in Searches 

If someone’s thinking of using a name similar to yours and they do their homework (i.e., a trademark search), they’ll see yours and might reconsider.

Taking Matters to Court 

Should someone use your trademark without permission, you have the green light to pursue legal action in a federal court.

Ownership Presumed 

If someone challenges your right to use the trademark, having it registered tilts the scales in your favor. It’s kind of like having a title deed for your trademark.

Going Global 

Got eyes on international markets? Your U.S. registration might make it easier to claim your trademark overseas.

 

Use the ®

Only registered trademarks get to use the coveted ® symbol. It’s a small sign that carries a lot of weight.

Considering these points, it’s no wonder that the USPTO’s trademark register is teeming with entries.

Trademark Eligibility: What Names Make the Cut?

When considering if a business name can be trademarked, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) follows strict criteria. The core principle? The name must be distinctive and shouldn’t create confusion with already registered trademarks. Let’s break down the different categories of names and how the USPTO views each.

Distinctiveness

If your business name stands out from the crowd, you have a better shot at getting it trademarked. The mantra here is: the more distinctive, the better!

Invented Names are Golden

Think of names like “Dorum” – they didn’t exist in our vocabulary until the company introduced them. Such coined or completely made-up names usually sail through the trademarking process because they’re inherently unique. They also garner robust legal protection since they’re unmistakably linked to a single brand or product.

Familiar Words, Unusual Context

When everyday words are used in unexpected ways, they can become strong candidates for trademarks. An excellent example of this is “Apple” for computers. No one thinks of fruit when talking about an Apple MacBook!

Suggestive Names

Names that hint at what the product or service is, without directly describing it, can also get the nod. Take “Greyhound” for buses—it suggests speed but doesn’t explicitly say “bus.” Similarly, “Goo Gone” implies the function without detailing what the product does.

Descriptive Names

Names that directly describe a product or service often hit roadblocks. Consider names like “Best Carpet Cleaning” or those that use personal identifiers, such as “Ben & Jerry’s” for ice cream. Likewise, geographic identifiers like “Chicago Pizza” can be challenging to trademark. The USPTO’s perspective is straightforward: they don’t want to give one business an exclusive right to generic or broadly descriptive terms. However, if you can demonstrate that consumers widely recognize your descriptive name as identifying your product or service (think how people associate “Ben & Jerry’s” with a specific brand of ice cream), you might have a case.

Avoiding the Confusion Trap

Finally, even if your name ticks all the right boxes, the USPTO might still put the brakes on your application if it sounds too similar to an existing trademark, especially if both businesses operate in the same or related industries. If “GoSolar” is a registered trademark for solar panels, launching a “GoSolar” for solar inverters might trip wires. Why? Because the names sound alike and are used for related products, creating potential confusion for consumers.

How to Trademarking Your Business Name

One of your first steps while opening a business might be securing your business’s name. Registering a trademark ensures that no one else can use your name, giving you an exclusive right to your brand’s identity. Let’s walk through the steps you need to take to make that a reality.

Do Your Homework

Use Trademark Search Services

Start with a comprehensive trademark search. Utilize professional trademark search services or the USPTO’s very own Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). Why? You need to check if someone else has already claimed the name or a name that’s eerily similar, especially for related goods or services.

Assess Your Eligibility

Once your search results are in and you’re confident that your name isn’t treading on someone else’s toes, you can move on to the next step.

Registration Process

Online Application 

Ready to stake your claim? Head over to the USPTO’s online portal and begin your application process.

Choose Your Mark Type

Standard Character Mark 

This type of registration is quite broad. Say you register “GoSolar”. Whether you later decide to use “GoSolar” in blue Arial font or “GoSolar” in gold Comic Sans (though we wouldn’t recommend that particular font!), it’s all protected under your registration.

Special Character Mark 

Going this route means you’re being very specific about your trademark. If you trademark your business name with a particular font, color, or design, that exact design becomes your protected trademark. This can be limiting, so ensure it aligns with your branding strategy.

Exploring Alternative Protective Measures for Your Business Name

Let’s say you’re not quite ready to go into the world of trademarks, or perhaps your name isn’t eligible. Don’t worry! There are still ways to shield your business identity.

Business Entity Formation 

States offer an inherent layer of protection when you form a business entity like a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC). The moment you’ve got that official LLC or Inc. after your name, no other entity in your state can claim the same name.

Trade Names & “Doing Business As (DBA)

Even without forming a full-fledged business entity, you can get a layer of protection. By registering a trade name or “DBA” with your state, you ensure no other business can use that name within your jurisdiction.

Bottom Line

Trademarking is more than just a bureaucratic step—it’s about securing your business’s identity in the marketplace. Especially if you’ve got dreams of expanding beyond state lines, federal trademark registration can be a real game-changer, deterring potential competitors from poaching your brand’s name. So, while the journey might seem dotted with legalese and paperwork, the peace of mind and security it provides are well worth the effort. To get your legalities straight, contact The Legal Critic

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