One of the first steps to starting a business is picking a business name. In order to conduct business within whatever state you reside, you must register your business name with the secretary of state and conduct all of your business dealings for that business under that business name.
There is often a lot of confusion in the world of small business regarding protection of your business name and intellectual property. In this article we will delve into the details of protecting your business name against others who would try to use your name and reputation to further their own business.
Registering a Business Name with your State
When you apply for an LLC or Corporation, your state’s secretary of state office will check your requested business name against their database to make sure that the name is not already in use. That way you have some assurance, at least within your state, that there is not another business with the same name performing the same service.
You may also register your business without an LLC or Corporation, but it may not be required.
For registration, the secretary of state does not consider your logo or other branding, they only consider the name you have submitted. Each state has different rules as to what constitutes a duplicate business name. For example, slight spelling differences are allowed in some states, while other states will likely say that the name is essentially the same (i.e. “John’s Plumbing” vs. “Jon’s Plumbing”), and not allow it.
While there is some legal protection afforded by a business name registration, this protection does not cover you across state borders and is harder to defend in court if you have a competitor trying to use the same, or similar name.
For most businesses, however, a simple business name registration will suffice to protect them from competitors trying to poach their name and reputation. Registration with your state is typically not expensive and can be accomplished by visiting your state’s secretary of state office website and filling out an application.
Federal Trademark Protection
If your business crosses state borders, or if you have created a brand or logo that requires more protection, you need to consider filing for trademark protection with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). While more expensive, this type of protection will guarantee that no other entity will be able to use your intellectual property for commercial gain.
When considering federal trademark protection, it is important to understand what type of protection you need. You may desire to stake your claim on a particular brand name, phrase, or logo, but you aren’t quite ready to pay the hefty fees. If this is the case, there may be a short-term alternative.
Filings for trademark protection with the USPTO can cost from $275 all the way into the thousands of dollars, depending on how much work is required to be performed by an attorney. The process can also take several months to complete. If you are not quite ready to make that commitment, there is something you can do.
Although it is not guaranteed to hold up in a court of law, you can still claim ownership of certain intellectual assets by adding the superscript “TM” to anything you feel rightly belongs to your business. The less formal superscript TM (Trademark) differs from the official superscript ®.
According to lawtrades.com, TM is used to signify common-law rights in pursuant to the Lanham Act. It signifies ownership of the brand, but that no trademark has been officially registered. ®, on the other hand, can only be used on wordmarks and logos that have received an official registration number from the USPTO.
Armed with this information, you should now be able to make more informed decisions about how to protect your name, brand, logo, or tagline. Good luck in protecting your business from thieves, poachers, and pirates, including the all-important intellectual property that is your business name.