If you are an entrepreneur or small business owner, it is important to protect your business name. Building a brand requires a lot of time and effort, as you invest in advertising and build customer familiarity with the brand. You want to ensure that the brand remains yours and no one else can steal it from you, because this may require you to rebrand your business and could even hurt your business. Unfortunately, without taking the proper legal steps, there is no guarantee that this won’t happen. You can protect your business name/brand by either registering your business name or trademarking your business name.
Registering Your Business Name
To register your business name, you will need to apply with the state to be a corporation or an LLC. The Secretary of State office will review the application and check to ensure your business name isn’t already registered. State laws vary regarding ho different a name must be to be considered original.
If your application is approved, then your business name is officially protected in the state, meaning no other business in your state will be able to register under the same name. There are, however, ways that people can still have the same business name:
- A business that operates independently as a sole proprietorship or partnership, meaning their business name is not registered with the state, can still have the same name as you.
- Since your business name is registered in your state only, there can be businesses in other states with the same business name.
It is important to know that registering your business with the state only protects your business name against other people registering in your state. This option is fairly safe for those with a small business operating only within that state. If, however, you plan to expand your business nationally, then you will want to protect your business name/brand on a federal level.
Trademarking Your Business Name
A trademark is a word, phrase, design and/or symbol registered to represent a business or product distinct from its competitors. You are able to trademark a specific name, slogan or logo that is distinct to your business brand. For example, McDonald’s has a trademark on the golden arches logo, the ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ slogan, and even certain ‘Mc’ and ‘Mac’ prefixes.
To be granted for a trademark, you must go through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A trademark ensures that you have sole legal rights over your trademarked brand and no one else can legally use it. If you plan intend to trademark your brand, you should take the following steps:
- Before applying for a trademark, you should conduct a search to ensure that your proposed trademark is not already trademarked and that there are no pending requests for your proposed trademark.
- Work with an intellectual property attorney who can help you conduct a comprehensive name search to ensure your proposed name is not already registered on a federal or state level.
Taking these measures can save you time and money, because if you file an application for a trademark that is already established, then your application will be immediately denied and you will lose your application fee. It is vital to: 1) have a business plan in place, 2) search established trademarks before making your brand, and 3) apply for a trademark as soon as you have created an original brand. Business is competitive, so it is best to take the necessary steps to be efficient when establishing your brand, and ensure your brand is legally protected. A Chicago trademark lawyer can help you to take the necessary steps as you move forward with your business.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from the Law Offices of Konrad Sherinian for their insight into trademark law.