As your business forms and you choose a unique name that you plan to operate under, you may wonder if it’s necessary to trademark the actual legal name that you plan to use for your company. As with most things in intellectual property law, the answer is that it really depends on the situation.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines a trademark as “a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” For some business owners, the name of their company does not meet this definition of use. We see this in cases where someone chooses a general name for their entity or holding company like ABC Company LLC, and then they create a number of offshoots and DBA’s under the general name that the company actually uses for marketing and branding.
In a situation like this, trademarking the legal name of the company would not be particularly useful or necessary because it’s not really something that points to the source of what you are offering. You likely will only use the entity name on contracts and formal documents, and it’s not something that a customer or client will see. Further, this would not constitute use in commerce such that you may not even be eligible for a trademark of your company name. For example, if your company name is Smith Business Consulting, you’ll likely have a difficult time getting an approval with the USPTO because your name is simply too generic. Or, your company name may be an excellent description of what you do and would be useful in terms of marketing, branding and SEO, but may be too common to get through the trademark office.
Finally, the decision of whether or not to trademark your company name may come down to your customers—meaning who are you serving and where you are primarily doing business. If you only sell products or services within your local geographic area, the common law protections you have in your state from operating locally may be enough to protect you from other nearby businesses infringing upon your name. If you sell to clients across state lines, or even internationally, then you may want to consider trademarking your name federally or in foreign countries, as common law rights will not be enough to protect you outside of your immediate geographical area.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to trademark your company name should be made after thoughtful consideration and discussion with an intellectual property attorney. Your attorney will help you analyze each element of your company and your goals to ultimately determine where you need intellectual property protection, and perhaps which elements do not require protection so that you are using your resources wisely.
If you need help getting started and you don’t currently have a relationship with an intellectual property attorney, please feel free to contact our office at 888-666-0062 to schedule a consultation.