You go through the cost and the heartache of building brand equity in the name of your company, only to find it can easily all be lost if you fail to protect your company’s name against use by others. Merely registering your company does not protect you. You’ll need to register your company name as either a trademark or a service mark. The same goes for any corporate logo. But be careful, registering the logo alone does not protect the name.
You automatically register your company name when you register your company. However, just because you register your company doesn’t mean another person can’t use that same name for a different business or even the same form of the name for a similar business. You may need further protection to prevent someone else from stealing your name or some form of it for a similar business. There are several ways to obtain this protection, all with varying costs and varying levels of protection.
The Importance of Protecting Your Company Name
Your business name represents your business. Protecting that name is critical so that customers know when they are dealing with your company, and when they are dealing with a competitor. For example, when Apple Computer started a music-based product (iTunes), Apple Music (yes, the same company that the Beatles formed) sued for trademark infringement. Not only did both companies have a similar name, but both also had a similar logo.
Types of Registration
You can register your name at the federal level (for the greatest protection), at the state level (practical for those doing business within a small region) and sometimes even at the local municipal level (good enough if all you’re doing business in is a city). At the federal and state level, you’ll need to determine if you need to register the name as a trademark (if you’re producing a tangible product) or a servicemark (if you’re providing an intangible service). You register your company name through the US Patent and Trademark Office. The cost is £211. To register at the state level, contact that state’s Department of State. For New York State, the cost of registering your company name will be £32. For the municipal level, contact your local clerk’s office. Costs can be as little as £16.
Considerations - Trademark or Servicemark?
Besides deciding whether you need a trademark or a service mark, you’ll also need to decide which state(s) to file in or whether to file at the federal level. Additionally, you might want to also register your logo, especially if it incorporates your name. In either case, you’ll need to conduct a trademark search--an intensive one for federal registration, a less intensive one for state registration. If someone else already has a similar name, you’ll need to be prepared to justify why you deserve an exclusive trademark or service mark. There are lawyers who can help take you through this process and, the more significant you intend your business to become, the more likely it is that you’ll want to employ the services of a trademark or intellectual properties attorney.
The cost of registering a trademark or service mark at the federal level, assuming there are no conflicts, could approach several thousand dollars. The cost of registering a trademark or service mark at the state level tends to range around £650. Both of these cases assume you use legal counsel. Registering at the local level can be as low as a few dollars, depending on your municipality.
If you’ve got a logo, you need to register that separately. Registering a logo that contains your name does not register your name, it only protects the graphic image that happens to include your name.