Should I trademark my business name? The answer to this question depends on the geographic scope and the type of name for your business. Trademarking your business name definitely offers a strong protection against someone else using your name. However, you'll still have to monitor unauthorized usage and take action in case of a violation.

What Is a Trademark?

Your business's name is an important asset of your company. It's the identity of your business and has a certain level of reputation attached to it, so you do not want a competitor to use your name.

A trademark makes it easier to identify your products, and services. Basically, it's a mark that you use while conducting your trade or business. From business and product names to logos and labels, you can trademark them all with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

When you register your business name as a trademark, you get an exclusive right over its usage throughout the nation with respect to goods and services it applies to. You can file a lawsuit if you find someone else using your trademark in the given category of goods or services.

Note that filing a trademark is different from registering a business name.

Why Should You Trademark Your Business Name?

At the time an LLC or a corporation is formed, the registering authority grants you the proposed business name only if it's not already being used by some other business in the state. When your business name is approved but you do not trademark it, it receives common law trademark protection, meaning that no other business can register in the state with your name. However, unregistered businesses like sole proprietorship and partnership firms can still use your business name.

To some extent, registering your business name may prevent others from using your business mark in the geographic area where you operate. However, while this protection may be sufficient for small businesses operating locally, it may not offer much help for large businesses with nationwide presence.

For instance, if you are running a local restaurant, it would hardly matter to you if someone else is running another restaurant with the same name in some other state. But if you own a large chain of restaurants operating in many different states, you may want to trademark your business name.

Registering a trademark gives you protection against its unauthorized use throughout the United States. The USPTO, the authority which grants trademarks, is a federal agency, so the trademarks it issues prevail over business names and state-level trademarks.

Advantages of Registering a Trademark

  • It offers nationwide protection for your trademark.
  • Your trademark ownership is included in the USPTO's database. Inclusion in the publicly searchable database reduces the chances of its misuse.
  • You can stop the unauthorized use of your trademark by filing a lawsuit in a federal court.
  • Registering a trademark creates a presumption of ownership in your favor. It makes it easy to prove that you are the only one authorized to use the given trademark with respect to the good and services listed in the application to the exclusion of all others.
  • Registering a trademark in the U.S. may also allow you to register it in other countries.
  • Upon registration, you may use the registered trademark symbol (®).

Types of Names You Can Trademark

Not all names qualify for trademark registration. The name you want to trademark must be distinct and clearly distinguishable from all the existing trademarks. Coined names that do not use any existing words (for example, “Xerox”) are easier to trademark, and they also offer stronger protection.

Names made up from existing words can also create strong trademarks provided it's done in a unique manner (for example, “Apple” Computers). You can even trademark a product name that does not describe the actual product (for example, “Greyhound” bus).

It's relatively more difficult to trademark a descriptive name, which usually includes personal and family names (for example, Harry's Ice Cream), location names (for example, “New York Pizza”), and names describing a product or a service (for example, “Best Computer Repairs.”)

In order to successfully trademark a descriptive name, you must prove that you have been using the name long enough for people to automatically associate it with the product or service you are applying for.

You may be denied a trademark registration for a name that is confusingly similar to some other trademarked name in respect of the same category of products or services you are applying for.

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