The Difference Between a Business Name and a Trademark

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Both are important for business owners to protect their identity; but many people don’t understand the difference in the two processes of registering a business name and filing for trademark protection.

Put simply: (In the United States) registering a business name is done at a state level, protecting a business name being used by multiple businesses in the same state – whereas a trademark is granted at a federal level, protecting any unique identifiers of a particular business (name, slogan, design) from being duplicated by any other business in the country.

In other countries there may be a slightly different structure, and thus it is always recommended to do some relevant research… a Google search should point you in the right direction!

Registering a Business Name

This is the process of registering the name and type of your business with the Secretary of State’s office – whether that be a Corporation, Limited Liability Company (LLC), Partnership or Sole Proprietor. The purpose of registering your business name is to ensure no other business can register the same business name in your state.

Each state has its own specific laws governing business name registration… meaning some states may allow a very similar business name (Andy’s Toys and Andi’s Toys), whereas some may be more strict. Similarly, registering a corporation or an LLC under one name doesn’t necessarily protect against a sole proprietor or partnership from using the same name. Check your Secretary of State website for specific information!

However, registering a business in your state will not protect you against a business in another state registering under the same name. For some businesses this isn’t really a problem… for example a local restaurant in California is probably not concerned with a restaurant in New York operating under the same name, as there is little chance their customers will get confused

Though if you’re a business that sell products or services in numerous states, has plans to expand nationally, or are otherwise concerned with obtaining exclusive rights across the country… then you may want to protect your brand at a federal level with a trademark.

Filing for Trademark Protection

Filing for trademark protection is done at a federal level, granted through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A trademark grants exclusive rights to the owner, preventing anyone else from using it.

But a trademark can be more than just a business name… it can be a word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies the particularly brand behind a product or service. Thus the USPTO will generally grant trademarks on distinctive business names, unique slogans or a particular logo that distinguishes a brand from their competitors.

A trademark owner can take legal action against any infringement, even if a domain is registered legally, or the infringing business is operating legitimately and unaware of the infringement. If you ever have concerns about trademark infringement, it is always recommended to have a chat to a legal professional before proceeding!

Applying for a trademark can cost around $200 – $600, and can take up to 12 months to process with the USPTO. In some cases it is also helpful to obtain professional assistance in preparing the extensive paperwork. However a trademark does have an unlimited lifespan if you comply with the renewal requirements.

Check the USPTO website for any specific information you require!

Trademark Application TIP:

When applying for a trademark, it is always advised to conduct a free search with the USPTO to make sure there are no currently approved or pending applications for your trademark, or a trademark similar to yours that may be deemed as infringement.

This is because if you apply for a trademark that is already in use (or approved whilst your application is still pending), your application will be rejected and the application fee will not be refunded – not to mention the time (and possible money) spent preparing the application.

Of course before you delve in to the registration and trademarking stage, you will also need to choose a business name. For inspiration, check out our Business Name Generator, specifically designed to provide hundreds of business name ideas from a single search, and provide crucial information on domain name availability.