Trademarks and Business Names
When you need to blow your nose, you don't reach for a "tissue" but rather a "Kleenex." And when you want a sugary brown soft drink to wash down that cheeseburger, you're more likely to ask for a "Coke" or a "Pepsi" than a "cola." Established brand names have the power not only to eclipse the brand names of competitors but also to become the default term for entire product categories. While the success of brands such as Kleenex and Coke are quite extraordinary, they illustrate just how important it is to create a memorable brand name. And in order for that brand to stick, you'll want to protect it as a registered trademark through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Trademarks and business names are not always the same, and in fact it's quite common for a business to brand itself under a fictitious business name or through other trademarks instead of its official name. For instance, the Kleenex brand is owned by Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc.
The following is an overview of trademarks and business names, with links and resources to help you make the right decisions. See FindLaw's Trademarks section for more resources.
Trademarks and Business Names: Getting Started
Suppose you're a scrappy young startup and want a business name that resonates with your target market, or perhaps you're a sole proprietor looking for a DBA ("doing business as") that does the same. In either case, you'll want to do your research and make sure the name is available (i.e. not already trademarked) before you print those business cards, order signage, and launch your marketing campaign.
- Do's and Don'ts: Trademark Rights and Business Names -- What to do and what not to do when finding the right name for your business seeking trademark protection for that name or brand.
- Top 10 Reasons to Register Your Trademark -- Why it's so important to register your trademark with the USPTO, whether it's your business name or other brands used to promote your products or services.
- Register Your Business Name: State Resources -- State-by-state listing of resources to help you search for existing business names, register your own name, and related information.
- The Difference Between a Trade Name and a Trademark -- And Why You Can't Overlook Either (U.S. Small Business Administration) -- A primer on how trade names and trademarks are similar but fundamentally different, with information about registering either one.
- Search the Trademark Database (USPTO) -- An overview on how to search the USPTO database, with tutorials on the Trademark Electronic Search System and additional resources to help you get started.
Trademarks and Business Names: Additional Resources
Once you've done your due diligence and decided on a business name, ensuring that it favorably represents your brand and is not already trademarked, you'll want to register that name (as well as the trademark). You also might need to transfer a trademarked business name, defend your trademark against infringement, or conduct other actions.
- Intake Form: Meeting with an Attorney to Trademark a Business Name -- Sample intake form to help you gather the information your attorney likely will need for a trademark registration.
- Checklist: Documents to Collect When Trademarking Your Business Name -- Handy checklist of documents and other items you'll need when registering a trademark for your business name, including specimens of your mark and business formation documents.
- Sample Document: Filing for Transfer of Trademarked Business Name -- Sample form for the transfer of a trademark from one entity to another, with information about how to get help from a trademark attorney.
- Trademark Infringement Law FAQs -- Answers to the most frequently asked questions about trademark infringement, such as whether it's an infringement if someone else uses your company name for a different type of business.
- Answers to Common Questions About Trademark Litigation (USPTO) -- What to do if you have been sued or sent a cease and desist letter for an alleged trademark infringement, and how to enforce your own trademark protections.
Consider Getting Legal Help with Your Trademark and Business Name
What's in a name? Quite a bit, actually, when you're a business whose fortunes to some degree rise and fall in proportion to public identity and brand recognition. Choosing the wrong name or failing to trademark it can have dire consequences that could be avoided with the right legal counsel. Find a trademarks attorney in your area today.