(This articles originally appeared on sarahsshepard.com)
The name of your business is arguably your most valuable asset. Your name and symbols are how people will recognize your brand, and by trademarking those things, you can keep your brand legally compliance and safe from copycats.
So, if you’re thinking about starting your own business, you might want to begin with a trademark.
Read on to learn more about how a trademark works and how your business will benefit from it.
What Exactly Is a Trademark?
A trademark is a legal way to protect your specific business name, logo, and any other symbols associated with your products or brand. The protection that a trademark provides may even extend to certain sounds and even colors that are demonstrative of your specific branding.
Take, for example, the packaging of Reese’s peanut butter cups. That exact reddish-orange color cannot be used for other candy brands. Or, the bitten apple associated with Apple computer products. Both of these things are trademarked as they are symbolic of each brand and associated with product recognition for consumers.
Trademarks last for up to 10 years before you need to renew them, and for additional protection, you can register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (the “USPTO”).
Once you’ve trademarked your business, no one else can use your name, logo, symbols, and any colors or sounds specific to your brand without legal ramifications — to an extent.
What You Get When You Trademark Your Business Name
When you trademark your business name or products through the ordinary course of business by operating as a going concern (and without the added protection of a mark from the USPTO), then what you have is called “common law trademark protection” for those marks. What this means is that you can legally stop other people from using your business mark, but only in your immediate geographic area — which is a pretty good start.
A common law trademark is perfect for local businesses that want to stay small. However, if you have an internet-based business and you’re planning to take that company nationwide, you’re going to need to register your business trademark with the USPTO for official recognition.
When you register with the USPTO, here are the advantages you get:
● Nationwide trademark protection that extends beyond your geographic location.
● Your trademark ownership will become part of the USPTO’s database, which creates a public record of ownership from the date you begin using your trademark.
● Anyone who conducts a trademark search will be able to see your trademark, which means they’ll know that they can’t legally use it without your permission.
● If anything associated with your trademark is being used elsewhere, you can file a lawsuit in federal court to enforce your trademark and seek damages.
● Since registering your trademark recognizes the right that you legally own it and are the only one who can use it for the product or services listed in your trademark application, you have the right to sue anyone using it without your authorization.
● Having U.S. registration enables you to register your trademark in other countries too.
● You’ll also have the right to use the registered trademark symbol ® (which may not be the most exciting part about trademarking your business, but it’s still pretty cool because it shows customers and business partners that your brand is legit).
As you can see there are numerous advantages of registering your trademark, which is why millions of businesses choose to go this route.
Of course, In the event that you decide not to trademark your business name at all, you run the risk of someone using your name, logo, or brand symbols — knowingly or unknowingly — and getting away with it. Also, that same person can even try to trademark these things and then turn around and sue you.
Which Types of Names Can Be Trademarked?
One thing that’s important to note is that not all business names are eligible for trademark registration with the USPTO.
You will only be able to register your trademark with the USPTO if your business name is distinctive and unique — as in unable to be confused with an existing trademark. Besides, the more unique your name is, the easier it’ll be to trademark in the first place.
Made-up names, for example, are the easiest ones to trademark — and they tend to receive the strongest protection. The same goes for existing words used in unfamiliar ways.
Apple is once again a great example because Apple is a technology company and apples are a fruit. The two things have absolutely nothing in common, but when you hear Apple products this, and Apple products that, you’re not thinking of the fruit, are you?
Names that can suggest a product or service without describing it are also eligible for trademarking. An example of this would be “Goo Gone,” which is a product you use to get rid of the goo left behind from adhesive tape or glue. It’s clever, it describes what the product does, and you’re probably picturing a bottle of it in your head right now.
The hardest types of names to trademark are straightforwardly descriptive names, such as location names, or plain names.
For example, “New York Pizza.” All it does is state what the product is, but there’s no association with a specific slice of pizza because well, it’s pizza.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream technically shouldn’t have worked either, however, the company did well by supplying brand items worth trademarking, such as their pint-sized ice cream names and the artwork that accompanies each pint.
This may sound counterintuitive, but these names don’t always come with an automatic brand association — aside from Ben & Jerry’s — which is what you’re going for when you trademark your business name.
Additionally, if your business name is too similar to an existing trademark, it can cause a lot of confusion and will therefore be denied by the USPTO. The similarities could be in something as simple as the names sounding alike, even if they’re spelled differently.
How Can I Trademark My Business Name?
If you’re trying to trademark and register your business name with the USPTO, your first step would be to conduct a trademark search using the USPTO’s electronic search system.
Once you make sure that no one else has trademarked your name and you can assure that it’s eligible for registration, you can apply for your trademark online. However, there are a lot of potential traps, and it’s a good idea to have a professional weigh in, such as a Huntsville trademark and intellectual property attorney.
That’s where we come in. Contact us today to consult with an Alabama business lawyer about your trademark idea. We’d love to help you make your business a success.