“What’s in a name?” demanded the lovely Juliet, in William Shakespeare’s acclaimed tragedy. Juliet’s puzzlement made sense to a certain degree, considering that Shakespeare wrote her lines in the late sixteenth century. However, in this twenty-first century, the tide has turned. Today, a name is not just a bunch of letters strung together to address a person, place or thing. In fact, it defines your identity! Its value is all the more potent when it brands a collective whole, like your company or business. It is thus no wonder business owners feel so protective about their brand name. In this blog, you will learn to both safeguard and champion this corporate identity as we explore how to trademark a business name.
What Is a Trademark?
At its core, a trademark is essentially a legitimization of a name. This could be the name of your company, the name of your product or even the name of a service you offer through your business. In addition, the trademark gives you exclusive rights to the name.
If you are still in alignment with Juliet’s way of thinking, before you consider how to trademark a business name, you might wonder why anyone would trademark anything at all. To understand this, consider the name of your company or business. This is your brand—built over years of sweat and hard work. In fact, its influence does not end there.
As corporate genius Seth Godin cleverly shares, “A brand is a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service, over another.” Yes, your brand name helps your customers recognize the superior value of your business/product/ service, and thus choose your brand over other brands. A trademark can help you legalize this unshared access you desire, for your exceptional business.
Types of Trademarks
The exclusive legitimization of a name can be of various types and at various levels.
A copyright is typically illustrated by the © symbol and is a stamp that your work is your own and not copied from somebody else. This protects it from plagiarism. In the US, the © symbol is no longer required (post 1 March 1989), to highlight the exclusivity of your work.
A trademark is illustrated by the ™ symbol and shows that you desire exclusivity for your brand. If the brand centers on a service and not a product, then you should use a service mark with the ℠ symbol. In either case, it does not provide you any legal protection when others use the same brand. For this, you must register your brand.
A registered trademark is illustrated by the ® symbol. You can only use this after you have registered your brand name with a recognized government body (like the USPTO in the US). This also legalizes your brand’s exclusivity so no other individual or business can infringe on it. However, note that you will have to use the trademark ™ symbol during registration until it is complete.
The rest of this blog will give you the steps and help you understand how to trademark a business name.
Benefits of Trademarking Your Business Name
As we recently explored, a registered trademark is not about flaunting your brand. Instead, it legally protects the misuse of your brand by others with dubious interests. Here are some of the benefits you are likely to enjoy when you dig deeper on how to trademark a business name.
Highlight Your Brand’s Exclusivity
A trademark is the first step to showcase the exclusivity of your brand to the public. Without this, your brand name is just like any other name.
Protect Your Brand’s Exclusivity
Here, it is important to understand the difference between legitimizing your brand’s exclusivity through a simple copyright or unregistered trademark and legalizing it with a registered trademark. With an unregistered trademark, you are sending a clear message that your brand is exclusive. However, there is no incentive for others to “not use” your brand. In fact, there is nothing you can do about it if someone else chooses to use, misuse or abuse it. (Perhaps you can request them to stop using it, but that is about it.)
A registered trademark will allow you to use the law to protect your brand. Now, you can legally sue these law-breakers for disturbing the integrity of your brand.
Publicize Your Brand’s Exclusivity
When you register your trademark with the USPTO (U.S. Trademark and Patent Office), your brand name is protected all across the nation. This also means that there is a public record of your brand in the government body’s database. When other competitors seek to register their brand, they will become familiar with already-registered brands, including yours, and be automatically blocked from using it. This also allows you the exclusive use of the registered name in public advertisements and campaigns.
Finally, if you take your brand to an international level, the USPTO-registered trademark will be both essential and useful to register your brand in other countries.
How to Trademark a Business Name
As you can see from the material covered so far, a registered trademark will not only legalize your business name, it can also enhance its visibility. The last step is to execute this registration and includes the following actions.
With respect to a brand, you can trademark the following:
When exploring how to trademark a business name, also consider how this affects your business. For instance, let us assume that you wish to trademark your business name, “Quality Constructions.” You have developed a logo using a black and white color scheme which has also gained and received visibility and popularity with the public. If you trademark only the name, a dubious competitor can still capitalize on your brand by selling their (unregistered) products under “Quality Construction.” They may even use a very similar logo with the same color scheme but without the final ‘S’-–in order to hoodwink the public. It is easy to miss this profound difference.
In order to avoid this kind of situation, companies typically trademark all individual elements associated with a business brand. This includes the name of your business, the (individual) products you seek to sell, the service(s) offered and all other design elements collectively used to identify your unique business brand. (This includes your business log, any mascot figures, tag lines, color schemes, fonts of the logo, etc.) However, do note that there is a separate cost and process involved for every individual trademark.
Understand What Cannot Be Trademarked
If an individual or business has registered a particular name with the USPTO, then you cannot use the same name for your business especially if you wish to register it. This is valid even if you were the first to use that name. Legally, registration precedes usage. You should ensure that your business name is unique before you apply by conducting a trademark search on the USPTO’s database.
Next, the USPTO also has guidelines in place so it does not register business names that can be potentially confusing or misleading to the public. This means that in the above scenario where “Quality Constructions” is registered, the government body will automatically reject subsequent registration requests with business names like, “Quality construction”, “Kwality Constructions”, “Kwality Construction” or even “High Quality Construction.” The integrated business owner is sure to appreciate this extra vigilance.
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If you are a business owner exploring how to trademark a business name, the good news is that you register your application with the USPTO online. This takes less than two hours to complete. The cost can be upwards of $225, depending on the category and the number of trademarks you wish to register for your business. With all this, you may think that this is a straightforward process which you can do by yourself. However, here are some additional things to note.
With these considerations in place, we urge you to work with a legal consultant to check thoroughly and confirm your eligibility before application. (Yes, there will be an additional cost, but this is significantly cheaper than hiring a lawyer.) The legal consultant can also help you crack the finer details of your application—like choosing a unique and suitable business name—so the USPTO quickly approves your application with no fuss.
If you are a business owner, we hope that the content provided here has helped you understand more on the registration process. The USPTO was set up by the government to encourage fair trade within the nation and support business owners as they build (and strengthen) their brand. We will leave you with this genius statement from the management consultant and author Bernard Kelvin Clive, “If opportunity doesn’t come knocking at your door, build a brand.” Here, learning how to trademark a business name is the first important step in that process..