You formed your Corporation or LLC, so you’re well on your way to building a successful business. Now it’s time to protect your company name and brand, so that name will be yours to use for years to come. When it comes to your business name and trademarks, a few proactive steps can go a long way toward protecting your brand and business. Best of all, it’s easy and affordable — you just need to know where to start…
First, some basics. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design (or a combination of any of these) that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. Trademarks are managed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
You’re not actually required by law to register a trademark. Use of a name instantly gives you common law rights as an owner, even without formal registration. However, you should consider registering your trademark for proper legal protection — after all, you’ve spent untold hours deliberating on the ideal name, and you’ll be spending even more cultivating brand recognition.
Trademarks and brand names have value; they can be sold as corporate assets. Most importantly, trademarks registered with the USPTO enjoy significantly stronger protection than “common law” (unregistered) marks. With a registered trademark, it’s exponentially easier for you to recover your properties…for example, if someone happens to be using a close variation of your domain name.
So, how do you go about trademarking and protecting your name?
Step 1: Make Sure You’re Legally Permitted to Use the Name in All 50 States
By incorporating or forming an LLC, you got approval to use your name in your state of incorporation. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have authorization to use that name as a trademark throughout the United States. Your next step is making sure your name is available at the federal level.
- CorpNet.com offers a Free Trademark Search Tool which is a no cost search conducted nationwide and a great place to start to see if your name is available for use nationwide.
- It’s important to know that you can infringe on someone else’s mark even if they’ve never formally registered it with the USPTO. For this reason, it’s always best to also conduct a Comprehensive Nationwide Trademark Search to make sure the name is not being used by others in state and local databases which would also include common law and county registrars and domain registrars. You can order your Comprehensive Nationwide Trademark Search online through CorpNet.com starting from an affordable fee of just $199.
- You should also make sure that a domain name is available (on .com, .net, .biz and other domain extensions).
Step 2: Registration
After you’ve settled on a name, you need to register it with the proper authorities. This should be done as soon as possible to prevent someone else from registering it. An assumed name – also referred to as a “Fictitious Business Name” or “Doing Business As (DBA)” – is the easiest type of registration. This involves applying for a name at the county government offices and paying a fee.
You’re not actually required by law to register a trademark. Using a name instantly gives you common law rights as an owner, even without formal registration. However, you should consider registering your trademark for proper legal protection – after all, you’ve spent untold hours brainstorming the ideal name, and you’ll be putting even more effort into cultivating brand recognition.
Registering a Trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a relatively easy process if you know what you are doing. The good news is that CorpNet.com can relieve you of this hassle and prepare and submit your federal trademark application to the USPTO for just $149 (USPTO fees additional). Expect to pay approximately $325 per class for filing fees for each class that your mark would potentially fall under (that’s for filing directly online; it’s approximately $375 per class for paper filings). The process can take anywhere from 9-12 months once your application is submitted depending on the complexity of your mark.
So Why Register?
Trademarks and brand names have value; they can be sold as corporate assets. But most importantly, trademarks registered with the USPTO enjoy significantly stronger protection than “common law” (unregistered) marks. As a personal anecdote, since we registered the mark CorpNet, it was exponentially easier to recover ‘CorpNet’ on Twitter, ‘CorpNet’ on Facebook, and ‘CorpNet’ on YouTube. In the long run, we saved a ton on the legal fees associated with getting injunctions – and all because we registered the trademark.
One other thing about registering… If you are considering incorporating your business or forming an LLC, you should do so before you register any trademarks. This places your trademark under the umbrella of the corporation or LLC. The different corporate structures offer different benefits.
As you journey through the process, be sure to take each stage seriously. Your name represents your brand and business. You should take the right steps up front to protect your name and identity. In the long run, the simple step of registering a trademark can save small businesses a ton in legal fees down the road.
A portion of this original content by Nellie Akalp was written and published on AllBusiness.com.