Your business name and branding are crucial to your company’s success, because they’re the first things customers will associate with your products or services. In previous blog posts, we’ve gone over the importance of developing and registering trademarks to build your business. The last thing you want is to spend a lot of time, money and effort choosing the perfect trademark, only to find out someone else has registered it. Here’s a guide on how to avoid trademark infringement.

Consult Your State Government

Most states provide an online tool for anyone to search for business names. In 47 out of 50 states, this exists on the website of the Secretary of State or Secretary of the Commonwealth; Alaska, Hawaii and Utah do not have such positions, but they do provide business name search tools on their state websites.

Remember to not only search for the specific name you want to trademark, but also for names that sound the same but may be spelled differently. This applies to any synonyms of the words you want to use as well.  Others will sue you for trademark infringement if they think consumers might confuse your trademarks in any way.

Consult Other State Governments

If you plan on doing business in other states, search for your desired trademark in those states as well. The LLC Company says this is especially crucial for Internet-based home businesses. Even if you complete just a single transaction in another state, you may be considered as doing business within that state.

Search For Trademarks or Patents Owned by Another Business

Businesses can file trademark infringement lawsuits if your naming or branding violates a trademark or patent they own, even if it’s unconnected to their business’s name. Thus, search the United States Patent and Trademark Office to avoid infringing on any other patents or trademarks. Remember to search for similar-sounding names, misspellings and synonyms.

Avoid Intentionally Misleading Trademarks

Throughout this post, we’ve stressed searching for any trademarks or patents that could be mistaken for your own by looking for names that sound the same, are spelled similarly, or have similar meanings. However, a trademark infringement lawsuit will likely only be successful if your name is found to be intentionally misleading in order to attract the same customers.

For example, the LLC Company says if you choose the name “Stairbarks”, this would obviously remind consumers of “Starbucks”. So if you’re opening a coffee shop, “Stairbarks” would most likely be found to have willfully breached the “Starbucks” trademark. However, if you’re manufacturing stairs for dogs, a court would probably rule you were not being deceitful.  Therefore, you could use “Stairbarks” and most likely avoid a trademark infringement violation.

Talk with an Attorney

Marketing consultant and Forbes contributor Kelly Watson recommends speaking with a trademark or patent lawyer when considering potential trademarks. “While it’s no guarantee against trademark infringement threats, it will help you choose a business name that’s as safe as possible,” she says. “One conversation could save you from an expensive lawsuit and countless hours spent reinventing your brand.”

Photo credit: Ben Sutherland via Visual Hunt.

 

About the author

Alex Liu

Alex Liu

Alex began his career as a scientific legal consultant and then as a journalist researching and reporting on health policy and health sciences. At UpCounsel, he enjoys researching and analyzing data to help businesses make informed decisions. In his free time, Alex is working on a documentary.

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