123’s of Trademarks: Selecting Your Business Name or Mark
So you’ve decided to start a new business or open a new practice. In addition to a multitude of other decisions, you need to decide on the name of your business. The strategy in naming and branding your business can have a major impact on building goodwill and a contributing factor in the success of your business. You will want to differentiate yourself from your competitors and standout, especially if you’re facing a saturated market place.
Clients frequently seek legal counsel to protect their business’s name and to further understand if their business name may also serve as the basis for a trademark. While a business or trade name is somewhat of a different animal than a trademark from a legal perspective, there are parallels between the two concepts in terms of what strengthens or weakens a business or trade name and a trademark.
Entrepreneurs routinely select very descriptive names for their businesses and trademarks. From a legal protection perspective, however, this can be problematic, as the applicable laws are not designed to protect descriptive or generic names or terms. Stated differently, the names or marks in these instances tend to exactly describe the services or products being provided. For example, you have developed an amazing line of unique and organic cupcakes so you name your business Laura’s Organic Cupcakes or Organic Cupcakes of Texas. If you want protect the name and keep others from using the same or a similar name or mark, these are probably the worst choices for a business name or trademark.
Marks that identify or describe a product or service, are in common use, or are used as geographical indications generally cannot be registered as trademarks and will remain in the public domain for use by anyone. Descriptive trademarks can only be registered if they have acquired distinctiveness after years of continued use and recognition by consumers. Generic terms used to refer to the product or service itself, however, cannot be registered or protected as trademarks.
An entrepreneur should resist the compulsion to describe the goods or services they are offering when selecting a name or trademark. Instead, create a name or mark that is novel and unique. An excellent real-life example of a strong mark consistent with our hypothetical above would be Sprinkles®–a well-known and successful bakery that focuses on cupcakes.
Before you spend a lot of time and money selecting a name or mark for your new business or paying a graphic designer to develop a logo to go with the name, you should speak with experienced legal counsel. Otherwise, you may experience the same frustration many others have faced when they are told their business name or mark can’t be registered or otherwise will be afforded little to no protection.
For more information on choosing and protecting a business name or trademark, please contact James M. Stanford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214.291.3207.