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  • Writer's pictureKate Kliebert

Trademark 101

Trademarking the name of your business and the services and products it produces is important.

Owning a federally registered trademark means no other company anywhere in the country gets to legally use your name – or even one close to it – to sell similar products or services. It protects your business and eliminates confusion in the marketplace. It’s especially important if your business name is super unique or if you plan to expand to other states or take your business nationwide.

It’s important to get it right.

The biggest thing about registering your trademark for your company name – or your products and services – is to do it before you do most anything else. This is how you can ensure you get and protect the name you want – and that no other company already is using it.

What often happens is business owners get excited about a name and then they create a cool logo and print all this cool stuff with that name on it. And I get it. The creative process is a lot more fun than the legal aspect of starting a company or rolling out a new product or service line.

But when clients come to me to trademark a name after they have committed to it, I don’t always have the answers they want. They might not be able to secure the trademark.

I did a search, and it’s good.

But did you search nationally or just with your state’s secretary of state? And did you search similar names?

To secure a trademark, your chosen name doesn’t have to be an exact match.

For example, say you want to call your cosmetics line Easy Breezy, which, by the way, I’d guess is trademarked by whomever owns Cover Girl. You can’t search for `Easy Breezy’ alone. You or your attorney will also need to research the other forms that that name could take. EZ Breezy. E-Z Breezy. Easy Breezee. You get my point.

The more unique your name, the stronger your trademark.

If your business name is merely descriptive, you might not need a trademark – nor would you necessarily get one. Charlotte Window Cleaning Company is not a name to trademark if you clean windows for a living, for example.

So what can you do if you’ve invested in and committed to a name that is already taken or is too similar to one that is already registered?

You have some options.

You could look at narrowing the list of goods or services on your trademark application. Maybe your t-shirt company doesn’t sell all kinds of t-shirts but only licensed pro sports t-shirts. You could approach the company that has registered a name that is similar to your brand name and try to reach an agreement that you can use and register your version of the name if you agree to stay in your merchandise lane.

You could also see if the other company is actively using its trademark. A trademark is good only so long as it’s being used. If you never opened your business or you closed up shop, you don’t get to hang onto that name forever. So if you see another company is sitting on a name you want, you can open a proceeding with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel that registration and claim it for your business.

You could also consider registering your design instead of the words. The Nike Swoosh is a good example. And in a follow-up article, coming soon, I’m going to talk more about the different marks you can trademark.

I hope this is a reminder to companies to call their business attorneys before they get their branding and design teams rolling. I promise the creative process will be even more fun when you can rest assured that your business name is yours and yours alone.

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