The first thing you need when starting a business is an eye-catching and unique name. Once you have it, it’s important to protect it and try to stop others from (ab)using it. To do that, you need to trademark your business name.
Read on to find what trademarking a business name means and the way it differs from patenting or copyrighting.
Trademark a Business Name, Copyright, or Patent It?
Before we get into trademarks, there are a few terms we need to distinguish. A trademark is just one way you can protect intellectual property.
In order to understand each process better, let’s compare different intellectual tools you can use for your business.
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. Copyrighting doesn’t technically apply to business or brand names.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Copyright?
The cost of copyright registration depends on what you’re trying to protect. It can range from $45 (single-author registration of original work) to $500 (protecting a vessel design).
One major difference is that you apply with the U.S. Copyright Office instead of the USPTO.
A patent is a type of intellectual property that grants the owner the exclusive right to make and sell an invention for a limited amount of time. To get a patent, the person has to submit a detailed explanation of how that thing is made and reproduced.
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.
IBM was the company with the most annual patents in the United States from 1993 to 2021, with the number of patents being in the thousands each year. In 2022, Samsung overtook them.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Patent
The price depends on the size of the business and the type of patent application. Also, the USPTO periodically revises and changes patent application fees.
As of January 2024, micro businesses have to pay between $12 and $2,100, small businesses between $24 and $4,200, while the cost for larger corporations ranges from $60 to $10,500.
However, getting a patent is a more complex process that is difficult to complete without an experienced professional. In practice, attorney fees are the biggest part of patent registration.
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.
To get a trademark, the entity you want to protect needs to be unique and available. Before you begin the application process, check if a business name is taken.
How Much Does It Cost to Trademark
The price for a trademark will always vary, depending on whether you’re going for one or multiple trademarks. Of course, you have to decide 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 $250-$350 per class. Nonetheless, once you pay, you are obligated to keep track of the process so as not to miss a filing deadline.
Trademark vs. Copyright vs. Patent – Overview
Check out the table below to see a brief recap of the differences between these intellectual property types:
|What It Covers
|Any original medium you’ve created.
|New and unique technical inventions and product designs.
|Any word, phrase, or design that makes a business or product unique.
|What You Get
|The right to control the copying and redistribution of your work.
|The exclusive right to produce and distribute the patented invention.
|The exclusive right to use the object of the mark.
|Novels, music, movies, buildings, software code.
|New technology, design, or production process.
|Name, word, phrase, logo, symbol, color scheme, domain name.
|– Long duration (70 years past author’s lifetime),
– Reasonable pricing,
– Easy obtainment process.
|– Prevents the copying of your invention,
– Ability to sell and license what you’ve made,
– Gives exclusivity.
|– Prevents others from using the same trademark,
– Helps establish brand recognition and trust,
– Can last indefinitely.
|– Doesn’t protect actual idea (just its presentation),
– Difficult to enforce.
|– You have to reveal detailed technical specifications,
– Time-consuming obtainment process,
– Costly to maintain.
|– You need to use it actively,
– It can be hard to prove uniqueness,
– Costly to obtain.
A Step-By-Step Guide on How to Trademark a Name
To trademark a name, you have to have a basic knowledge of trademarking. Alternatively, consider hiring a professional.
Below is a detailed description of the steps you need to go through to get your business name trademarked.
If you are looking to trademark a name, you first need to apply to get it. This includes filling out a form.
But, paperwork aside, in the U.S., we can talk about three ways in which you can actually file for trademarks:
- Common law: It 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., with the Secretary of State Office.
- Federal registration: Once you get a federal trademark, you are covered all over the U.S. To get a federal trademark, you need to apply with the USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office).
The application period for getting a trademark usually lasts between three and six months.
The good thing is that once you get it, it will take a while before you have to repeat this step. Federal trademarks last ten years, after which you can renew them for another ten years. The number of renewals is unlimited.
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.
Not that for some trademarks, the renewal period will be five years or less.
Hints to Help You Trademark a Name
- Pick an original name that doesn’t come close to established trademarks. Use our AI-powered business name generator to get a unique and catchy business name for free.
- Establish a recognizable business first before spending time and money on a trademark.
- Hire a professional attorney to help you with the trademarking process.
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 get your application denied.
Some of the reasons a trademark application can be rejected are:
- 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,
- The name is similar to an existing trademark,
- It contains non-distinctive designs
- Misleading geographic origin,
- Incomplete application.
How to Keep Your Trademark
Once you have a trademark, you need to renew it every time its registration expires. However, there’s more to it than just paying another fee.
You need to fulfill a set of requirements to be eligible for renewal. You need to:
- Actively use the trademark in commerce,
- Submit a specimen for each class to prove the trademark is in use,
- Delete any goods and services no longer in use,
- Submit maintenance document and renewal fee.
This will also include a higher price when refiling. A ten-year renewal with the USPTO costs $525 per class.
Trade Name vs. Trademark
Trademarking your business name gives you an exclusive right to use your chosen business name. With a trademark, you’ll have the law on your side when it comes to protecting your business name from copycats.
Before you get a trademark, you should know the difference between a trade name and a trademark. For anyone who wants to establish a brand presence on the market, trademarking their business—and having a trade name—are both crucial steps to protecting an entire business legacy.
Having a Trade Name
When you register a company, you need to give it an official name. A trade name, also known as a DBA (Doing Business As), is an alias that you can use for operational, marketing, and branding purposes. It’s typically shorter and more memorable than the official name.
For example, Pepsi is a trade name, while the company’s official name is PepsiCo, Inc. The same goes for Ford and Ford Motor Company.
Unlike the official company name or a trademark, a trade name doesn’t have to be unique. Note that registering a trade name doesn’t protect you from other people using the same name.
If you want to avoid any potential lawsuits, you shouldn’t use a trade name that is too close to an existing trademark.
A trademark gives you more protection than a trading name. However, the trade name you’ve registered will allow you to file corporate taxes and provide you with other administrative purposes and benefits for your business.
Types of Trademark
Because of the vastness a trademark covers, we need to also make a distinction between the many types of trademarks.
|What It Covers
|Generic words don’t qualify as a trademark. But, if this mark describes qualities or characteristics specific to one industry, then you can turn them into a trademark.
|Apple Inc. (unique word for consumer electronics)
|The name of the company is a metaphor for something else, a creative way for people to remember the company.
|Netflix, Jaguar, Airbus.
|Your name is something not only new to the market but also something people have never heard of before
|Nike, Kodak, Xerox, Rolex.
|It’s proof the manufacturer of a certain product or service has met the predetermined standards.
|Rated R, USDA Organic, Parental Advisory.
|It protects the unique packaging of a product.
|Apple store design, Heinz Ketchup bottle, Pringles canister.
|A trademark that protects distinctive products.
|Big Mac, iPhone.
|A trademark that protects distinctive services.
|FedEx, American Airlines, Visa, Amazon Web Services.
|It represents the origins of products/services and has a collective ownership.
|Swiss Made, California Grown, ISO.
The Importance of Knowing the Trademark Type
Before trademark laws came into the picture, people were confused as to what service belonged to what brand and vice versa.
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.
This practice changed when trademarks became more common as business owners began trademarking their business names. When you have an issued trademark, nobody can infringe on your name, slogan, or other parts of your business. If they do, legal actions will ensue.
To trademark your business name, you need to understand the type of trademark you 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
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 by trademark laws that give you the freedom to use your product, logo, slogan, or another trademark freely and exclusively on the market.
Moreover, you can have a trademark indefinitely. As long as you renew your trademark on the specified date, you can use it to your heart’s content.
Obtaining and maintaining a trademark is a costly affair. Depending on the type of application filing, the process for getting a trademark comes with an application fee of $250 or $350 per class of goods or services.
TIP:If you plan to run a bar and sell merchandise with your logo, you’ll need to apply for a trademark in both class 43 (food and drink services) and class 25 (clothing, footwear, and headwear).
There are also some limitations to trademarks. For instance, while you can have it indefinitely, you have to renew it and prove that the trademark is in active use. If you fail to do so, you’ll lose your protection.
There are also geographic limitations, and a U.S.-issued trademark won’t help you if you go international. Furthermore, if you take out a state-issued trademark in California, you’ll have no right to claim infringement in any other state.
You should also know that a business name trademark gives you the exclusive right to use the name, but it doesn’t apply to the underlying product or service. As long as your competitors don’t use the same or confusingly similar names, they can sell similar products.
What Can I Trademark?
When thinking about how to trademark a name, first check if your product or service can be trademarked.
You can trademark a logo, symbol, or, in some cases, 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.
- 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 or common knowledge to everyone cannot be used as a trademark. But, this is only limited to one area.
What to Do if I Don’t Want to Trademark My Business Name
If you don’t want to go through the application process of federal trademarking, there are other ways to protect your business name. These include:
- Common law trademarking: 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 who still hasn’t trademarked their business, the ™ symbol is here to help. Usually, this symbol is used by owners who 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: When trademarking a name, you can go through the states’ system as well. The downside is that the protection here doesn’t extend beyond the state.
Trademarking Around the World
Just like with every aspect of the world of law, trademarking law has a specific geographical area that it works within. In other words, trademarking laws that regulate this matter in the USA aren’t going to be used in the U.K.
To get a broader picture of trademarking laws in other countries, here is the basic knowledge of how trademarks are regulated in the U.K. and Europe.
How to Trademark a Name in Europe
Similar to the USPTO, there is EUIPO (the European Union Intellectual Property Organization) for all countries that are members of the European Union. This stands for European Union Intellectual Property Organization. To get an E.U.-based trademark, you first need to have a state trademark in one of the member countries.
Since there is an existing trademark in another country, this organization only lets you extend the reach of your trademark. No other person who is a citizen of some member state can use that trademark for their own business.
The cost of getting a trademark is €850 for the first class, €50 for the second, and €150 for each additional one. You also need to renew the trademark every ten years.
How to Trademark a Name in the U.K.
The U.K. trademark system is similar to the one in the U.S., but with one stark difference—there is no specific body that is regulating this matter. The trademarking requests go through the U.K. government.
So, if you are planning to trademark a business name in the U.K., you have to fill out a form and pay fees online.
In addition, you can expect the same length as the one given in the USA—around six months to receive the trademark.
The Madrid Protocol
The Madrid protocol is an international trademark seal. If you plan on getting your product recognized in more countries or worldwide, then this is your best option.
Up to 130 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 who 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.
Consider 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. Before you jump into it, do your research or hire a professional that can guide you smoothly through the process of learning how to trademark a name.