Picking great business and product names is hard.
You want a name that is distinctive, memorable, and makes a good impression. The best name is also easy to say and spell. You want a name that captures the essence of your business or product. You want a name that makes you stand out from the crowd. And you want a name that has an available domain.
Sometimes it seems like all of the good business and product names are already taken.
When thinking about your business and product names, it’s important to think about them in the context of trademark law.
But why oh why should you think about trademark law in the startup planning stage?
Because so many of the good business and product names are already taken. Many names have a federal trademark registration or common law rights that protect them.
You want to understand the basics of trademark law so that you can take steps to increase the odds of being able to use the names you want to use.
If you don’t consider trademark law when you pick your business or product name, you might get accused of trademark infringement or lose the right to use the brand that you have worked so hard to develop.
After you have incorporated your business with a name, designed a logo, built a website and marketed your brand, it’s a terrible setback to have an aggressive trademark owner allege that you are infringing her registered trademark.
Even worse, if you don’t understand the value of federal trademark protection and fail to file a registration, someone else may get a federal registration on the name that you’ve been using and then try to stop you from using it. If the PTO doesn’t find your prior use (it might not if you don’t have a registration) or you don’t monitor pending registrations during the time when you can object, you may be very upset that you didn’t register your mark earlier than the interloper.
Trying to prove priority and cancel a registered mark is an expensive hassle.
What does trademark law do?
Trademark law protects brand names that are used in commerce. Its goal is to prevent consumer confusion as to the source of goods or services.
Go to USPTO.gov website and learn about trademark law. The government is trying to help small business owners and it has a ton of free information on its site.
The US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has a registry system that keeps track of federally registered marks and gives people notice of the source of the goods or services associated with the mark.
When you go to USPTO.gov, you can also do some basic searching yourself and find out whether the name you want to use is already being used for similar goods and services by another company.
You can search this registry for free with TESS on the USPTO.gov website. It’s easy. You can search for specific names and you can search on owners. (Use the New User Search Form (Basic).) You can find out what names already have a federal registration and the associated goods or services. (The third post in the sub-series will discuss federal trademark and common law trademark searching in more detail.)
Trademark law will prevent you from using a name that is likely to confuse consumers as to the origin of goods or services.
No one wants to start over from scratch. And you don’t want to waste time or money or hire an IP attorney to clean up the mess.
Clean up always cost far more than prevention.
If you learn about trademark law and do some preliminary groundwork, you can save yourself money, time, energy and hassles.
My next two posts will discuss trademark registration and specific tips for avoiding infringement when picking business and product names.
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