Every business owner wants to make sure their business name is kept safe.
You might even have arrived at this article looking for a way to patent your business name.
However, it isn’t actually possible to patent names. Your best option is to trademark a name instead, much in the same way you might trademark a logo.
In this article, we’ll learn about the trademark definition, how to register a brand trademark, and how to apply for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
We will also learn why you can’t copyright a name but you can trademark a business name and how to file a trademark for your business.
We’re also going to explore several benefits of registering a trademark, in case you’re not sold on the idea yet.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is an intellectual property that distinguishes a brand. It can be in the form of symbols, images, words, or other designs.
The purpose of a trademark is to acknowledge the source of goods or services. It also helps customers recognize a brand and avoid confusion between similar products or companies.
There are two primary types of trademarks that are commonly used:
- Word mark. Prevents others from using your brand’s spelling or similar sounding names that may cause confusion.
- Design mark. A logo falls under this category. It protects the graphic symbols and elements (like fonts and color combinations) you use to represent your company.
Trademarks can be registered with your country’s trademark office, but it’s not mandatory.
From your first commercial use of an unregistered trademark, your right to use that trademark is established under common law.
However, registering a trademark comes with plenty of legal benefits and protection, which we will explore later.
The cost of registration depends on how many trademarks and classes you apply for. It also depends on which country you operate your business in.
A trademark registration remains valid as long as the owner continually uses it to mark their products or services.
Why should you trademark your business name?
As previously mentioned, you’re not required to submit a trademark application. But, registering one comes with plenty of advantages.
First of all, a trademark registration ensures that your brand is unique. You’ll get an exclusive right, and no one can use your trademarked name for their business.
In the event of potential infringement by another party, a registered trademark allows you to take legal action. Plus, it absolves the burden of proof on your part.
Trademark application also ensures that you don’t accidentally infringe on existing trademarks and risk getting sued.
Last but not least, it enables your company name to use the ® symbol, boosting its legitimacy and reputation.
We recommend trademarking your business name as soon as possible. If you unknowingly infringe on existing trademarks, the settlement fee can be expensive and you will need to seek legal advice.
Plus, the profit you made under the infringed trademark may be taken away as a damage payment.
Not to mention, you have to come up with another trademark. This will cost you more marketing budget and potentially drive your customers away due to confusion.
How to apply your business name for a trademark
The first thing to do is research the patent and trademark office in your area. For example, the US has the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Then, trademark your company name with the following steps:
- Check whether your business name is eligible. Make sure it’s distinctive enough to meet the requirements, which we will explain further in the next section.
- Conduct a search for trademarks. A trademarking search will be necessary to see which ones are already registered. Consider consulting an attorney for a thorough examination of your trade mark searches.
- Submit your application. Once you’re sure the name meets all criteria, submit the necessary documents for review and if successful you should be able to register a trademark.
- Respond to feedback. You may be asked for additional information or corrections. Make sure to respond immediately and resolve any disputes.
We suggest seeking a lawyer’s legal advice to ensure you don’t miss anything in the process and keep up with deadlines.
What can’t you trademark?
While the things you can trademark range from specific words to other distinctive brand features, there are some limitations.
Here are the ones you need to be mindful of:
- Industry-related generic terms. You can’t trademark descriptive terms that are common within your industry. For example, you can’t trademark “soup” as a soup brand.
- Registered trademarks. Needless to say, you’re not allowed to use names that have been recorded within the registry.
- Unregistered trademarks. Business names recognized by a state or a federal government are still protected under the common law.
- Personal name. If you’re trademarking someone else’s name, you have to provide written consent from the owner of the name.
As such, make sure the name you pick is distinctive enough. In general, you can use:
- Fanciful names. Words coined specifically for a brand, like Google or Xerox.
- Arbitrary terms. Proper words or names that have nothing to do with your line of products. A good example of this would be Apple.
- Suggestive marks. Terms that hint at your product’s attributes or characteristics, such as Netflix or Airbnb.
It’s also important to check the spellings and the pronunciation of your brand. This is to avoid confusion from sounding too similar to existing trademarks.
If you’re unsure, check with your local patent and trademark rights office for more information on your application.
Difference between a trademark, patents, and copyright
Trademark, patent, and copyright are all protections for intellectual properties. However, each of them serves a different purpose.
In trademarks vs copyright the difference is reasonably simple. Generally speaking, copyrights are for creative works, and trademarks apply to commercial property such as business names. Meanwhile, patents are reserved for goods or services.
We already know what a trademark is, so what about the other two?
A patent is used for trademarking an invention so others can’t use or sell it without permission. Meanwhile, copyright is used to protect the authorship of original works such as books, songs, movies, and so on.
Unlike a trademark, both patent and copyright are only valid for a period of time.
A patent is valid for 20 years. Meanwhile, a copyright protection is valid for the creator’s lifetime and an additional 70 years.