Most owners of new or growing businesses eventually wonder whether they should trademark their business name. This goes for companies as well as brands, which can be as small as one person with his or her name.
The answer to this question depends on several factors, from your locality to your future plans and intentions.
If you have yet to choose a business name, this is the perfect time to do so. You can use tools like this Business Name Generator to brainstorm names as well as available domains to ensure you do not end up with a name that’s already in use.
What does a trademark do?
At its core, trademarking your business name reserves its use for your business alone. This is also true for any other trademarkable aspect of your business, such as logos, designs or even products.
Having your name registered as a trademark is a good way to ensure no other businesses use the same, or in many cases, a similar name. This helps avoid confusion that may arise in customers as well as any unnecessary competition over public attention or online real estate, such as domain names.
Is it necessary to trademark your name?
In short, it is not necessary to trademark your business name. You can open a business and operate freely without it.
Most business opt to trademark their name and logo when their business is steady enough, to the point where longevity seems inevitable, or at least viable. If you are considering growing or expanding into new markets or territories, the time may be right to consider trademarking.
There is a bit of a “sweet spot” when it comes to trademarking your name and logo. You do not want to go through this process if you are unsure about the future of your business, but do not want to wait too long, as it may be too late.
Why should you trademark?
If your business grows and becomes successful, there is a risk that others may try to cash in on your success. Trademarking your name helps prevent much of these problems, such as others buying domain addresses with your company name, selling products under the same name, or any other semi-legitimate actions you can imagine.
In case of any of these occur, having a registered trademark gives you the upper hand in legal disputes. It also grants you the power to file federal lawsuits to protect your trademark.
Trademarks are regional
If you only operate in one state in the U.S., it is not necessary to trademark your name. Any company registered as a corporation or limited liability company in a certain state has the right to that name. Outside of the U.S., trademarking laws vary, but in most cases apply to the country in which you are registered.
Problems start to arise when your business expands beyond state lines. Business in other states may operate under that same name, causing unnecessary problems operating in that territory.
It’s important to note that, as trademarks are national, a registered trademark in one country will not carry over to other countries.
Is it difficult to trademark your name?
The process of trademarking your business name in the U.S. is generally quite simple and can be done online through the USPTO’s website. The cost to do so is between $275 and $325, as of 2010.
It is possible to hire professionals to assist in the process, but the cost may double if you choose to do so. Most business can manage without external assistance.
Getting your trademark approved is where the answer to this question differs. Names that are made-up words, such as Netflix or Google, generally get approved quite easily. Names that are comprised of existing words, such as Burger King, may also be registered in most cases. The process does tend to become trickier for more generic or descriptive names, such as Philadelphia Auto Repair, for obvious reasons.
If you have yet to come up with a name, this is an important point to consider, before it’s too late.
Make sure to check existing trademarks
Before applying for a trademark, or even better, before you choose your business name, you should search for existing trademarks. Doing this early enough will ensure that your name is available for trademarking, at least for the time being.
Though it is possible to operate locally even if the name is trademarked by another business, it is never a good idea to restrict your own growth potential by doing so.
You can head over to the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System and look up your business name, or potential names, to see their availability.
Additional advantages for registered trademarks
Having your name registered as a trademark has some additional benefits, aside from protecting the use of your name in your country.
A registered trademark acts as a public record of ownership, further cementing your ties with the name and preventing other from infringing on your rights to it.
Having your name registered with the USPTO will include it in the TESS database linked above. Most business with national or global ambitions will undoubtedly check this database before settling on a name of their own. Having your name included in the database as registered will decrease the chances of others using it.
Lastly, having your business name and logo registered as a trademark with the USPTO can, in many cases, increase your chances of successfully registering it in other territories.
If you haven’t already, you should definitely check your existing or potential names for availability as soon as possible.
Deciding whether or not to apply depends on your business, your locality and your aspirations. If you only operate locally and plan to continue to do so, you probably do not need to register a trademark. If, on the other hand, you see yourself operating nationally or globally, it is best to apply sooner rather than later.
If your business is still in its early days, it may be a good idea to wait a while and see if it warrants the time and money needed to register a trademark.
Though most business owners eventually encounter this issue, the timing does differ. But it is always a good idea, and never too early, to understand the issue of trademarking, regardless of the current stage of your business.