When you start your own business, you put a lot of thought and emotion into your company’s new name. You want it to be memorable, catchy yet professional, and yours alone.
State laws differ in their requirements for business names. However, generally, registration with the Secretary of State means another business in your state cannot use the same name. It does not mean another business in a different state cannot have the same name.
You should definitely register your business name with the Department of the Secretary of your state. This name registration is not the same as getting a registered trademark.
A company name is a tag or label. A trademark indicates property. This property signifies your company’s products or services.
Companies use trademarks to brand their product or services in order to make them easily identifiable. Trademarks can be signs, designs or symbols, or expressions. And yes, they can also be a specially formed or spelled name.
We are all familiar with trademarks like the Nike swoosh, Apple’s apple, the Mercedes symbol. Burger King’s “have it your way” slogan is another trademark. The registered trademark symbol (®) applies to trademarks that designate products, or goods.
The symbol (℠) is used to indicate a service mark or trademark that designates services. Microsoft produces products and services, but its distinctive multicolor design is its service mark for Windows.
Once you have composed the trademark, you will need to register it with the federal government. Registering your trademark protects the property rights to your trademark, giving your business exclusive authority to use it, and preventing other companies from copying it.
After receiving your completed application and fee, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will examine your trademark over a period that can last several months. Then the trademark is subjected to a 30-day waiting period when other businesses can challenge it.
The purpose of this careful inspection is to be sure that your trademark really is one of a kind. It cannot be the same design as another company’s, in different colors and fonts, for example.
And it must be distinctive enough not to be confused with a similar trademark. After any issues or objections are resolved, the Office will officially register your trademark.
When to Consult a Trademark Lawyer
It is always a good idea to confer with a lawyer if you are starting your own business. You want the confidence of professional guidance, to make sure all your procedures and standards are in order.
A trademark lawyer can assist you with your trademark registration. You can get an application for a trademark at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Web site, www.uspto.gov, and ask your trademark lawyer to help you complete it. Remember, only a unique trademark can be registered.
There must be no blurring between trademarks — each needs to be identified separately from any other trademark, and not able to be mistaken for some other brand.
Your trademark attorney will search the Trademark Electronic Search System (“TESS”) database, to be sure another entity has not already trademarked your slogan, picture, design or logo. If another company has already registered the same mark, even if you used it first, your trademark will not be registered.
If your chosen trademark is too similar to another, existing one, or challenged, a trademark attorney can advise you on finding a way to modify it so that it can be registered.
Your trademark lawyer can also develop any contracts that are needed to support your trademark and will represent you if someone else uses or copies your registered trademark.
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