A name is half your business. Reputation and quality-wise, the more eye-catching and relevant to your business it is, the more it will strike out among your industry competitors. With that being said, a quality business name is hard to come by and even harder to get your hands on—especially if we are talking about domains and popular business names with the sheer amount of businesses in the market today.
But, let’s say you’re past that step and that you’ve found your dream business name. You ask yourself just before you’re ready to get stuck into building your business—is there a way to keep your business name yours and yours only?
Yes and no.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just copyrighting your business name and being done with it. In fact, it’s got nothing to do with copyrighting at all.
What you’re actually looking for is how to trademark a business name.
We recommend watching this video after you read our comprehensive article on trademarking a business name, as it will make the process nice and clear for you!
To learn what trademarking a business name means, and the way it differs from patenting or copyrighting, here’s our comprehensive guide on the matter.
Trademark a Business Name, Copyright, or Patent It?
Before we get into the world of trademarks, there are a few terms we need to distinguish. A trademark is just one way you can protect intellectual property. So, it’s natural that many are confused with all this business lingo when entering the business realm for the first time.
Should you try to trademark a name or copyright it?
What about patenting it?
There are lots of confusing questions to be answered.
Firstly—yes, intellectual property law is a vast field of many opportunities. But, each of these applies in a different way to your business name.
In order to understand each process better, below is a detailed description of which intellectual property tool to use for your new business.
Copyrighting Company Names
Say, you’ve just started a new business and you’ve spent a long time coming up with the perfect name. In doing so, you also want to prevent others from stealing and using it for their products. Sound like you? Then here’s how the process of copyrighting a name works.
How to Copyright a Business Name
How do I copyright my business name must be among the most common questions asked by new and existing business owners. Now, while it might be reasonable to assume that you can copyright a business name, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Copyright protection only applies to works of art or authorship fixed in tangible mediums of expression, such as books, movies, sheet music, or even buildings. With that being said, copyrighting doesn’t technically apply to business or brand names.
Fortunately, you can still protect your business name with a trademark. Even though trademarking and copyrighting may seem like similar processes, they protect completely different types of products.
What Can Copyright be Used for
There are a handful of categories of copyrighted material—literary works, dramatic works, musical works, and motion pictures, to name a few. All of these have to be in a tangible medium of expression, i.e. something that can be experienced by humans.
Therefore, you cannot copyright ideas or concepts.
And while at it, you cannot copyright facts either. That means that if you write a biography or make a documentary, copyright would only protect the artistic way the information has been presented. Anyone else can present the same information, but they have to do that in a different way.
Also, copyright only gives the authors the right to control the copying and redistribution of their work. So, if someone buys say, your book or CD, they can do whatever they want with it, except copy it.
Pros and Cons of Copyright
One of the biggest advantages of copyrights is the extremely long time they are valid for—throughout the author’s lifetime and 70 years following their departure. The prices for getting copyright are also rather reasonable, and the process for obtaining a copyright isn’t too difficult to carry out.
The major drawback to copyrights is that they protect the ways and manners in which an idea is presented—not the idea itself. This is in contrast to patents that can also protect the idea itself.
Consider this to be an important distinction when calling the shots on how you will protect your hard work.
So, now that we’ve covered copyright, let’s move on to patents.
Interestingly, patents are not the same as learning how to trademark a business name, or copyright it.
What is a Patent Used for?
Patents are a type of intellectual property that grants the person who owns the patent the exclusive right to make and sell an invention for a limited amount of time. However, in order to get a patent, the person has to submit a detailed explanation of how that thing is made and reproduced.
What Qualifies for a Patent?
The requirements necessary to patent a certain process or product can vary depending on the country. However, in general, most countries have a few similar requirements in common.
Almost always, the patented item must be a result of human inventiveness, and not a result of natural processes. It also has to be useful in some way, provide a certain benefit, and/or a way to use it. Furthermore, it must be new or novel in some way, and not be an exact duplicate of another existing product.
Pros and Cons of Patenting
As one might expect, there are multiple advantages of getting a patent on your invention. It gives you the right to prevent others from copying and stealing your hard work, as well as the right to use your invention yourself.
Additionally, it lets you sell or license what you’ve made to others and profit from that.
However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to patents. When applying for a patent, you have to submit important technical specifications that you may want to keep secret from your competitors.
It is also a very lengthy and time-consuming process, so your invention might become obsolete by the time you finally obtain your patent. Finally, it can be quite costly to get and maintain your patent.
The third type of intellectual property protection is trademarks.
A trademark is any symbol, name, design, short phrase, or slogan that can be used to identify that some good or service originates from a certain brand. It also distinguishes similar products from the brand’s main competitors.
As for how to trademark a name—this is what you’re after for your business name!
Trade Name vs. Trademark a Business
So. How to trademark a name?
That’s the real question on all business newbies’ minds.
Trademarking allows you as an owner to use any chosen (and available) name for your new business, without worrying that anyone will misuse it. This way, you get to have the law on your side and keep your new business name entirely legitimate.
But, the first obstacle when facing the process of how to trademark a name is making the distinction between a trading name and trademarking a business. For anyone that wants to establish a brand presence on the market, trademarking their business—and having a trading name—are both crucial steps to protecting an entire business legacy.
However, trademarking a business and using a trade name does not represent the same processes.
Having a Trade Name
A trade name is the company’s official name.
Lawyers that swim in intellectual property waters also call it Doing Business As—or DBA. It is a different process than the one used to trademark a name.
Of course, registering your business under a certain name is important for the brand you’re creating. That is practically your first step to creating a brand’s identity.
However, note that registering a trade name doesn’t always protect you from other people using the same name. Ergo, registering a trading name is not the same as registering a trademark.
Moreover, to avoid any possible lawsuits (let’s hope it never comes to that!), it is advised not to use a trade name that is too close to a trademark.
It is a fact that a trademark gives you more protection than a trading name. However, the trade name you’ve registered will allow you to file corporate taxes as well as provide you with other administrative purposes and benefits for your business.
Trademarking a Business
Trademarking a business or trademarking a business name is a process of shielding your company with the help of the law. Simply put, trademarking your business will allow you to cover your work with legal protection. This part requires more work and is a bit more significant in scope than the process of registering a trade name.
The simplest distinction between these two is that a trademark applies to the business as a whole i.e. to something more than the name of the company.
Trademarks can be part of your trade name, but they are also much more. They also include your logo, symbols, slogans, etc. Plus, to trademark a name, you have to go through a more detailed and complex process than registering a trade name.
An easy way to see if a brand is trademarked is by the trademark symbol “™” that will be found on its socials and next to its logos and branding.
Sure this information is helpful, but the question still stands: how to trademark my business name?
The best, and most efficient way to go about trademarking a name is to hire a lawyer that specializes in intellectual property. This way, your business will be fully protected and you can start building your brand.
A superb example of a trademark is Nike with its check symbol and slogan – “Just do it!”
Next, let’s dive into the types of trademarks so you know what to speak to your lawyer or professional advisor about when you are trademarking your business name.
Types of Trademarks
As we mentioned, learning how to trademark a name can encompass many aspects of a business. As part of the trade name, it can also protect your slogan, symbol, product, service, and more.
Because of the vastness a trademark covers, we need to also make a distinction between the many types of trademarks.
Some of them are as follows:
- Generic marks;
- Suggestive marks;
- Fanciful marks;
- Certification marks;
- Trade dress or marks that deal with products;
- Service marks or marks that deal with services;
- Collective trademarks.
A Generic Trademark
At first glance, this doesn’t qualify as a trademark. The reason is simply that it is too generic, and generic things cannot be trademarked. However, if this mark describes qualities or characteristics that are specific to your business, then you can easily turn this into a trademark.
A Suggestive Trademark
Today, many people who launch a new business often try to portray innovation and creativity. But, this does not only apply to their services or products, they add this ingredient into their name too.
“Suggestive” here means that the name of the company is simply a metaphor for something else; a creative way for people to remember the company. That is why suggestive trademarks are easy to obtain and usually stem from the owner’s imagination, meaning they are new and unseen on the market.
As an example, take the brand Netflix. It suggests movies (flicks) that you can download online.
A Fanciful Trademark
This is the easiest way to obtain a mark when learning how to trademark a name.
A fanciful trademark means that your name is something not only new to the market but also something never before heard of.
An example of this can be Nike. Not many dictionaries know this word, however, no human on the Earth hasn’t heard of this brand.
Technically, Nike is the Greek Goddess of Victory, but not many people know that!
A Certification Trademark
A certification mark means that the manufacturer of a certain product or service has met the predetermined standards. What this means is that the product or the service your business provides, has gone through every test and specification that are needed to place it out on the market.
Many do not consider this as a type of trademark. However, trademark laws in many countries, including the USA and Australia, consider this to be a type of trademark. Thus, they provide forms for business owners to fill out and file for this type of trademark.
A Mark on Products
It’s all in the name. These marks only apply to businesses that deal with products.
And, of course, these take the biggest piece of the cake called ‘the market of trademarks.” This is mainly because every new business owner doesn’t know the distinctive types of trademarks.
Thus, the first type they opt-in for is the most commonly known—the trademark for products. For this reason, hiring a professional lawyer that is specialized in this field can help you find the right path and guide your business to success.
This doesn’t fall under our ‘how to trademark a name’ guide per se, but many use it as a way to add additional protection to their trademarked product. Namely, this falls under the trade dress protection.
The concept revolves around the features of a product—packaging, décor, etc. So, if the packaging of your product is considered to be unique, with this tool, you can strengthen your rights over that product and its visual appearance.
A Service Mark
A service mark falls on the other side of the trademarking coin.
Namely, aside from the fact that there are trademarks processed over products, many businesses deal with services. Thus, there comes the need of learning how to trademark a name that is connected to what they give out on the market.
A service mark does just this.
Having your services protected i.e. services that only you can provide, can skyrocket your business. Even though many consider this to be out of the trademark’s grasp, a mark that deals with services are still undoubtedly a trademark.
A famous example of this is McDonald’s.
You might think that this is odd being a trademark, but when you think more about it, the name does represent the service they give out. Many food chain restaurants use this trademark today.
A Collective Trademark
These are not as rare as you might think.
A collective trademark is a mark used by an association or an organization for the purpose of making a distinction between both members and nonmembers.
Mostly, these trademarks are used to represent the origin of some products or services.
But, the key point to remember here is that this product or service can be used by multiple traders, as long as they are part of the organization that holds the collective trademark.
Knowing the Trademark Type is Important
Before trademark laws came into the picture, people were confused as to what service belonged to what brand and vice versa.
Namely, back then, it was easier to borrow a service or a product and later claim it as your own. There were a number of situations when both sides would present court statements that each was the first user of the said service or product.
Sadly, this only leads to more confusion.
However, this practice changed when trademarks became more common when business owners began learning how to trademark a business name. A trademark gives you full rights to a slogan, name, or other parts of your business. This means that nobody can infringe on them. And if they do, legal actions will ensue.
Taking all of this into consideration, your best option is to immediately trademark a business name.
To do it, you need to understand the type of trademark you’re going for and need. This way, you will ensure the laws play out to your advantage anytime a new business shows up on the market and claims rights to your product, service, packaging, slogan, or else.
Pros and Cons to Trademark My Business Name
Nothing is perfect, so, it is quite normal that trademarks will have their good sides and some bad ones too.
Below we have a list of these two sides explained in detail.
Trademarks: The Pros
The first and most important advantage of a trademark is the fact that it enables you to keep your business safe from others. As stated, trademarks are backed up by trademarks laws that give you the freedom to use your product, logo, slogan, or another trademark, freely on the market.
Moreover, a trademark has no expiration date. As long as you renew your trademark on the specified date, you can use it to your heart’s content.
Plus, the process of how to trademark a name just takes a simple step of filling out a form.
Trademarks: The Cons
As good as trademarks sound, there are some disadvantages to consider when using them as well.
First. Nothing lasts forever.
Trademarked brands usually climb the highest peaks on the market, but the phrase “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” often sadly applies.
With the big price and popularity fluctuations on the market, trademarked businesses can easily drop from their number 1 spot and head straight down to bankruptcy. Plus, the trademarking process may not be too complicated, but it can be expensive.
There is also the fact that many people tend to generalize big names or stuff them into a larger group. Take bubble wrap or escalator as an example. Initially, they were both names of brands.
But with time, people associated them with many similar things, which made for their generalization. And, yes, as everyone knows these words generally, the trademark will lose value and the owner will be slowly stripped of its power—eventually left holding an expensive trademark.
What Can I Trademark?
When thinking about how to trademark a name, first check if your product or service can be trademarked.
Sadly, in reality, saying that you want to trademark something doesn’t always mean that you can.
In simpler terms, not all things can be trademarked.
Yes, a logo, symbol, or in some cases, you can even trademark a shade of color, but there are still a few things that are considered off-limits for the ™ sign.
- Trademarks that already exist—once you get a trademark, nobody can use that same trademark for their business. So, naturally, you can’t use a trademark that already exists on the market, unless you are willing to face a pile of lawsuits!
- Unregistered trademarks—in general, if a trademark is not registered, you might be able to use it or even trademark it. However, this also might depend on whether that product/service is popular or not. If it is, getting it trademarked will pose a problem, due to the possibility of creating confusion among customers.
- Trademarks that are too generic—every word that is too generic i.e. that is common knowledge to everyone, cannot be used as a trademark. But, this is only limited to one area. Take “apple” as an example. If you are selling apples you definitely won’t be able to use this trademark. Yet, Apple uses it belongs to a totally different industry—phones and computers.
A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Trademark a Name
Congratulations. If you’ve made it this far, how to trademark a name is the key point we want to elaborate on. To trademark a name, you have to have the basic knowledge of trademarking or you should certainly consider hiring a professional.
Below is a detailed description of the steps you need to go through to get your business name trademarked.
The first step—the application process.
If you are looking to trademark a name, you primarily need to apply to get it. This includes filling out a form.
But, paperwork aside, in the US we can talk about 3 ways in which you can actually file for trademarks:
- Common law—simply implies using the name on the market and hoping that it catches on with people. This way is based on the geographic location of the business and thus the people that use that slogan, symbol, etc.
- State registration—this includes the previously mentioned filling out of a form. However, you do this on a state level i.e. the Secretary of State Office.
- Federal registration—or, the top dog. Once you get a federal trademark, you are set for good. These don’t just protect your product or service in the US but grow its outreach to international levels as well.
The process might be simple, but it is not cheap at all. The price for a trademark will always vary, depending on whether you’re going for one or multiple trademarks.
Of course, there is the decision on what type of trademark you want to obtain.
Taking all of this into account, you will be given a trademark price that might range somewhere between $200-$300. Nonetheless, once you pay, you are obligated to keep track of the process so as not to miss a filing deadline.
When learning how to trademark a name, patience matters before all other traits you have. Also, this can be one of the downsides to this entire process. In other words, the length in which you can expect to receive your trademark could be somewhere between 3 and 6 months.
On the other hand, the good thing is that once you get it, it will take a while before you have to repeat this step. Trademarks don’t have an expiration date, so you can use them as you see fit. But there is a catch—you always have to renew the trademark.
Renewing a trademark suggests that you have to go through the procedure of filling out the paperwork for the trademark again.
This is not entirely the case. Yes, you will have to refill some paperwork, but it won’t be anywhere near as extensive a process as your first trademark.
Also, there is usually a 10-year distance between renewals of the trademark. Yet, for some trademarks, this period will be 5 years or less.
Hints to Help You Trademark a Name
Our first tip would always be to go for something more creative. Once you start your journey of how to trademark a business, you should aim for the stars. This means going for a trademark that is unique and hasn’t got the slightest connection to others’ trademarks. Using our awesome free name generator is a great tool for this!
Another thing is to first start your business and then aim for a trademark. After all, what is the point of spending hundreds of dollars on a trademark if the product/service isn’t selling well? That is why establishing a presence on the market should be your priority and will act as the springboard for your success down the road.
And of course, if you are having issues with any part of the process of how to trademark a name, the best option is to hire a professional. The legal specialization in intellectual property is fairly new, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good lawyers ready to guide you on the right path to trademark a name.
Reasons Why a Trademark Could be Rejected
The procedure to trademark a name is simple, but it won’t always be eligible for your case. Sometimes, there might be some overlooked facts that can bring you a “rejected” answer from the trademarking organization.
If you’re asking “Why can’t I trademark my business name?” here are some of the reasons to consider:
- As previously mentioned, you cannot trademark existing trademarks, unregistered or too generic ones;
- If you have missed your filing deadline—though not a real rejection—because you haven’t begun the filing, to begin with;
- You want to trademark a surname;
- The trademark is too descriptive; etc.
How to Keep Your Trademark
By now, you should know how to trademark a name and how to keep it. But, just to make it clear, we give you a comprehensive look at how to secure a trademark that stays yours.
As said, you only need to keep renewing i.e. refiling the maintenance documents that are required. Usually, trademarks last for 10 years, but the first registration might be restricted to 5-6 years.
This will also include a higher price when refiling. If the beginning price was around $200, you can expect that you will be required to pay $400 or more, every 10 years.
And normally, if you stop renewing, the trademark will be canceled.
What to Do If I Don’t Want to Trademark My Business Name
When people say “I have already gone through the process of trademarking my business name” they usually mean they’ve completed the federal trademarking.
Aside from this type, there are other alternative ways to trademark a name.
- Common law trademarking—as we said, you can start using a name for your business and hope that it slowly grows among the people. When you haven’t officially trademarked your business and you’re not using the ™ symbol, what you can do is use the trademarking under common law. The downside is that it is restricted to a certain geographic area.
- The ™ symbol—for anyone that still hasn’t trademarked their business, the ™ symbol is here to help. Usually, this symbol is used by owners that can’t trademark their business because of a specific reason. It doesn’t hold much legal power, but the positive side is that it usually deters others from using that name.
- State registering—we mentioned that federal is not the only level on which you can trademark a name. When trademarking a name, you can go through the states’ system as well. The only downside is that the protection here doesn’t extend beyond the state.
Trademarking Around the World
As much as we’d like for trademarking to be universal, sadly, it is not. Just like with every aspect of the world of law, trademarking law has a specific geographical area that it works within i.e. trademarks are territorial. Simply said, trademarking laws that regulate this matter in the USA aren’t going to be used in the UK.
To get a broader picture of trademarking laws in other countries, here is the basic knowledge on how trademarks are regulated in the US, UK, and Europe.
How to Trademark a Name in the USA
Here we mention 3 ways in which you can register for a trademark in the US. But before you start riding the wave of how to trademark a name, you need to know that in the US trademarking is done through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Their database can also let you know if the trademark you want is available or there is someone else that is using it.
Once you have confirmed this, you can carry on with your desired way of trademarking. Usually, the amount you will be asked to pay for a trademark is more or less $250.
Of course, this is only the lower limit and it gets higher depending on the trademark, number of trademarks, and so on.
All in all, the process takes from 3 to 6 months but this also depends on you. What we mean is that you have to respect the deadlines that are given to you by the registering office. Otherwise, you will lose the trademark.
How to Trademark a Name in Europe
Similar to USPTO, there is EUIPO for all countries that are members of the European Union. This stands for European Union Intellectual Property Organization. Naturally, if you are applying to this body for a trademark, it already means that you have one in a member country.
Since there is an existing trademark in another country, this organization only lets you extend the reach of your trademark. Meaning, no other person that is a citizen of some member state, can use that trademark for their own business.
You have to take in mind that this process costs far more than the one in the US.
It amounts to $850. But on the plus side, you don’t have to renew it for the next 10 years.
How to Trademark a Name in the UK
The UK trademark system is similar to the USA’s, but with one stark difference—there is no specific body that is regulating this matter. But, the trademarking requests go through the UK government.
So, if you are planning to trademark a business name in the UK, you have to fill in a form and pay fees on a site that you can find on the UK government’s website.
In addition, you can expect the same length as the one given in the USA—around 6 months to receive the trademark.
The Madrid Protocol
The Madrid protocol is seen as an international trademark seal. If you plan on getting your product recognized in more countries, or worldwide, then this is your best option.
125 countries are part of the Madrid Protocol. This means that once you get your business name trademarked by this system, it will be safeguarded from anyone that is a citizen, domiciled, or has an industrial establishment in any of the member states.
Before you decide to really go for a trademark, first think if you really need it.
Will the ™ tag be more useful?
Also, take into consideration the time and money you’d have to spend on getting your business name trademarked.
Wanting to protect the name of your business is natural in today’s economy. Research before, or hire a professional that can guide you smoothly through the process of learning how to trademark a name!