People start businesses every day and pick a name they feel either best represents their business or themselves. But is this name one they can “legally” use or is it something that has been taken by another organization? It is important to know more about your name before you decide this is the one you want to build your brand around.
The first thing you should do is to check to see if your name is “taken” and not available for you to use. This can be done by simply checking with the trademark office (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website) and seeing if it is available. They will use TESS, the Trademark Electronic Search System database, and this will indicate whether someone else has already claimed the name or symbol you want to use.
There are a few things you should know about a name when checking to see if it is available…
- While U.S. trademark protection is granted to the first company to use it in its operational geographic area (regardless of registration), a company that grabs the trademark first will generally have a stronger case in court.
- In some situations, the similarities between names or symbols may be negligible. That’s where an experienced business attorney with intellectual property experience can help.
However, one of the best things you can do to avoid any hassles is to come up with an original name that is not being used by anyone else. Today, there are a few ways to do this…knowing that the majority of names have already been taken because of the mass adoption of the internet. Original names are essential for three reasons: marketing power, clarity, and trademark infringement avoidance.
One way to create a new and original name is to combine two names into one so it is something that is a unique combination and not identifiable with any other name in the market. The other is to use a name that is completely foreign to your industry and as such won’t infringe on most trademark laws.
For example, if you’ve decided to open a coffee shop, it’s fairly easy to determine that the name “Starbucks” is not an option. But, what about the name “Smith’s?” And what happens if the “Smith’s” trademark is an auto insurance company in your town? Often times there are generally a ways to accommodate both companies. This can occur especially when it comes to businesses with similar names, but dissimilar products (the “Smith’s” example above); those whose geographical locations may not conflict; and those whose names are too generic (for example, “The Clothing Store”).
Domain Extensions as Trademarks
In today’s marketplace, many businesses have both a physical location and an online presence. The question then becomes whether to trademark the company name (for example, Amazon), the URL (www.amazon.com), or both. It’s generally recommended that companies with an internet presence not register their web extensions (such as .com, .net, etc.) with their name unless planning to register the mark both with and without the web extension. The reason is that other businesses registering the same name can do so by just adding a different (non-registered) extension and cause a great deal of confusion for customers.
A prime example of this is Craigslist. The multi-purposed classified ad site is technically a “.org” site, but those who searched for craiglist.com or craiglist.net were often led astray. The company now has trademarks for all, so typing in the latter extensions now brings you to the main .org site.
If you have questions about business trademarks, just ask, or call our office and we’ll guide you through trademark protections so your business and your efforts are protected.