Businesses cannot survive without brand recognition. It is how they attract and retain customers and clients in the long run. The name of your business organisation is the linchpin on which your brand identity rests.
If some other company or individual starts using it to sell products or services, it could hurt your sales, mislead your customers, and potentially tarnish your reputation. Even worse, if that person or company managed to register the name as a trademark, your company could end up unable to use the name.
As a result, it's a good idea to know how to trademark a business name.
What is a Trademark?
Businesses often use unique names, symbols, and logos to differentiate themselves from the competition. When you officially register such a name or logo with the authorities, it becomes your trademark.
A trademark, when successfully registered, provides exclusive usage rights to that name or symbol to its owners. Anyone else in the same jurisdiction found using that name or symbol for commercial purposes is in violation of the law and can be sued.
Trademarks, once registered, do not ever expire, either, unlike patents (which have a fixed duration depending on the jurisdiction in which they are filed). A registered trademark can be identified by the symbol "®" which is used after the name or logo.
If you have a trademark that you are claiming as your own but haven't yet registered, you may use the "™" symbol. To obtain the full protection of the law, however, you will have to register that trademark and pay the relevant fees at some point.
Why Should You Register a Trademark?
Registration of a trademark provides your business with several key benefits:
- Your trademark gets protection across the nation, and even overseas if you apply for international trademarks.
- It becomes part of the official record. If someone else is considering using a similar name or symbol, they will be discouraged once they do an online trademark search.
- You get a legal presumption of ownership. This means that if someone else starts using that trademark, the burden of proof is on that party to prove their right to use that name, and not on you to prove it is yours.
- Your business gets exclusive rights to use the trademark in business, which will help create a unique identity and brand image in the market.
- If other businesses try to use the trademarked name, you can serve them legal notice asking to cease and desist. If they still go ahead, you can sue them in court.
Even more compelling than the advantages are the potential disadvantages of NOT applying for a trademark. Lack of trademark protection could end up proving very costly if your business expands into new markets; what if another company there has already trademarked your name? Your options then would involve a legal battle or rebranding, which are both very costly solutions.
Do You Need to Trademark Your Business Name?
Before you trademark your company name, this is a critical question that you need to ask yourself; is a trademark really that important? Ultimately, it all depends on the nature and reach of your business. If you expect the company to only operate locally for the foreseeable future, then, despite the benefits, you may not need a trademark.
Small partnerships or sole proprietorships may not have much use for a trademark, even in the long-term. However, for corporations and any business with ambitions to expand to new markets, a trademark is a must-have. In most jurisdictions, it usually only costs a few hundred dollars, too – a minor expense that more than pays for itself in the long term.
How Do You Trademark a Company Name?
The laws surrounding trademarks are quite universal; regardless of your location in the world, the rules and procedures remain largely the same. Here are the main steps involved if you want to register a trademark for your business name:
1. Conduct Preliminary Research
The first step is to search your local and national trademark database; in most jurisdictions, these can easily be found online. The objective is to figure out if someone already has a trademark on the name you have picked for your business.
If there are identical or similar trademarks already registered, you will have to change or tweak your name to prevent any conflicts or confusion. These are valid grounds on which your application can be rejected.
Also, look out for registered companies and businesses with similar names in your area. Even if they are not trademarked, these can cause trouble later on as they might qualify for common law protection in local jurisdictions.
Finally, ensure that your business name is unique and distinctive enough to qualify for a trademark. Made-up names are usually fine, but common names and words describing the business are not.
2. Make an Official Application
Once you are satisfied with the background research and the finalised name for your business, it is time to approach the relevant authority for trademark registration. In each region, there are unique bodies tasked with this.
For example, in the US, you will need to approach the United States Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO), while in the EU, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) is the competent authority.
In most cases, you have the option of sending the application electronically or through paper forms. If you need an extra measure of confidence, you may even employ an attorney who specialises in trademarks and IP law to file the paperwork on your behalf, but this is not generally necessary.
Once you submit the forms and pay the fees (these differ by jurisdiction) your part in the process is more or less complete. Now it is time to wait; the trademark registration process can take up to six months or more. The authorities will verify the information provided by your business and look for any conflicts with existing trademarks.
If all goes well, you should receive an approved trademark for your business within a year. Provided you do your homework correctly, trademark registration is a relatively inexpensive and straightforward task.
Overseas Registration of Trademarks (Optional)
In time, if your business expands across international borders, you may want to consider applying for a trademark in other countries. The Madrid System is an international agreement between 113 countries for the enforcement of trademarks, and if your target nation is on the list, you can easily apply for an international trademark at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
For nations that are not part of the Madrid System – Brazil and India are prominent examples – you will have to check with your relevant national authority on intellectual property and trademarks to proceed with your application process.
Not registering a trademark early in your business is one of those small mistakes that can snowball into a massive headache a few years down the line. In the age of internet and mobile technologies, startups have unprecedented avenues of growth, both nationally as well as internationally.
Therefore, it makes little sense not to apply for a registered trademark as a new business owner. You are putting your growth potential at risk by doing so. If you have any ambitions to grow your business, then a registered trademark is highly recommended.
In the meantime, learn how to trademark your company logo with our comprehensive guide.
What do you think? Is it worth trademarking your business name, and if not, then why not? Let us know your take in the comment section below.