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Trademark Basics for New Businesses

There’s a ton written about trademarks on the internet and many services that offer low cost Federal registration of trademarks. It can be challenging to wade through all this information and know what to do to protect your brand. The goal of this post is to outline why Federal trademark protection is important to your business, to give you guidance on how to pick a business name and finally some best practices for protecting your brand name.

A trademark is a “source identifier” meaning that when you see that mark or name, you know that the related goods and services come from a specific business or source. When you sell a quality product or service that customers love and they associate it with your brand, you build brand equity and a trust relationship with your customers. Your brand name or trademark lets a customer know that you are the trusted source for those goods or services that they love.

Trademark protection is available in three varieties: common law, state and Federal. While common law and state trademark protection can also be useful tools, this post will focus on the benefits of Federal trademark protection.

I will now try to sum up a complex statute and body of case law into a simple statement: the owner of a valid Federal trademark registration has a right to exclude confusingly similar brand names from use in interstate commerce. Essentially, if you have a valid Federal trademark registration and another product comes along with a similar name, selling similar goods and services, Federal law provides a remedy and liability. This is valuable to the trademark owner who has built a strong, trusted brand and does not want others to try to take advantage of investments in their brand. It’s also valuable for a new brand to know that they can protect their brand as it grows.

Picking a name that is best suited for trademark protection is a bit counterintuitive. Business owners often want to pick a name that conveys a quality or characteristic of their product or is otherwise descriptive. This can seem like a good choice to let consumers know what you do, but can risk not being “distinctive” enough for trademark protection. Names that are “generic,” i.e. are solely a category of product (like Dog Food), or names that are descriptive, i.e. describing a quality of their product (like “Best Dog Food”) can be more difficult or impossible to register than marks that are more “arbitrary” or “fanciful.” Think about famous brand names like Google, Xerox, Apple, Starbucks and Kleenex. These names either have no meaning other than the brand they identify or have no association to the brands products. The best trademarks don’t relate to the brand they identify and even can seem random or nonsensical. So be creative, think outside your industry and don’t rely on common terms related to your product when selecting a brand name.

Once you’ve selected a name, you’ll want to do some internet searching to see if there’s other businesses in your industry with the same or similar names. Once you’ve done that search, it’s best practice to bring in an attorney to do a more in depth search that includes the US Patent and Trademark Office, state, common law and even international databases. It may seem like you can do these yourself, but it’s important to understand the complex law around trademarks to judge if there is a potential issue.

Schedule a FREE 30 minute consultation to discuss your brand and naming strategy. We offer reasonable flat and hourly rates as well as discounted packages for new businesses.

As always, nothing in this post constitutes legal advice or representation. Please contact me directly to discuss how the above impacts your specific business situation.

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