You have a great idea for a business and are excited to pursue it. You also have the perfect name for your company. Nothing can stop you now!
But if someone legally claims that front-facing brand name before you do, that will definitely create a bump in the road. And it can be especially problematic if you create a website, marketing materials, etc., with your preferred brand name and then are contacted (and potentially sued) by the legal trademark holder.
That’s why trademarking your name as soon as you decide on it is essential. So is working with an experienced intellectual property law firm and a trademark attorney you can trust.
Why and When It’s Important to Protect Your Company Name
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines a trademark as “a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
Securing a trademark for your business name ensures: that you have the legal right to use it, and, that no other company has that right.
What Happens When You Don’t Pursue a Trademark
If you fail to obtain a trademark registration for your business name and the USPTO grants another company the same trademark, you can be prevented from using it. Not only is this very disappointing, but it can also be very costly if you’ve already paid for business cards, company stationery, signage for your office, or any of the many materials that are likely to bear your company name.
You may think your brand name is so unique that nobody else would ever think of it. But keep in mind that something as simple as your employee being overheard in public talking about the new name could lead to it being “stolen” by another business. Or maybe it could be a complete coincidence that another business came up with a similar name around the same time. It happens!
When to File for a Trademark
The sooner you contact an attorney for assistance with the complicated process of getting a company or brand name trademark application, the better! They’ll point out that you aren’t legally obligated to trademark your business name. They’ll also explain that using the name in observable ways before anyone else has done so creates what are called “common-law rights.” But those rights are limited, and relying on them to protect your name is risky.
In addition, your trademark attorney can explain the relationship between the name of your business entity (a limited liability company or LLC, for example) and a trademarked business name, including which you should pursue first.
Download our free Tricks of the Trademark guide to learn more.
What To Expect When Filing for Trademark Protection
Every company’s path to a trademark registration is different, depending on factors like how unique the name is or whether others have claimed an identical or similar trademark. But in general, the process plays out as follows:
You use a tool like the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to make a preliminary determination of whether the name has already been claimed.
Guided by your trademark attorney, you file a trademark application for a name that appears to be available. The application asks for information like your name and address as the trademark owner, the name you are trademarking, the goods or services your company provides, etc.
The USPTO assigns an attorney called an examiner to your case.
The examiner contacts you if they have questions about your application—and you ideally respond promptly to keep the process moving!
Your trademark is granted or rejected. There are several possible reasons for rejection (the name is too generic, it would create confusion among consumers with another similar name, etc.), which your trademark attorney can explain.
If your trademark is approved, you receive a Notice of Allowance. However, the name isn’t officially registered until you start using it (now with the registered trademark symbol ®) and file a Statement of Use and a specimen that shows you’re using it.
The trademarking process can take several months or longer. So, again, you should hire a trademark attorney and get started as soon as possible. Their knowledge of trademark law and what examiners look for in a trademark application can streamline and simplify securing your preferred business name.
Do You Only Protect The Company Name?
One of the reasons it’s critical to work with an experienced intellectual property law firm is that there are several other considerations for protecting and using your business name. For example:
A federal trademark protects the name at the federal level.
Registering an entity name protects you at the state level.
You should also protect your domain name (website address).
And don’t forget social media!
You might need a “doing business as” (DBA) name, which doesn’t provide protection but may be legally required.
Your attorney can walk you through what’s required to obtain all these protections. A great place to start is to get a free intellectual property evaluation.
Pursue Your Business Dreams With Confidence
Starting a company—as a first-time entrepreneur or a seasoned business professional—is exciting and challenging, with countless actions to take and decisions to make. The last thing you need is to be worried about someone stealing your business name or protecting the same name before you do.
Schedule a complimentary consultation with Wilson Dutra Innovation Law today.