The business names of many companies are the most important assets they possess, representing their reputation and accumulated good will. Since the hijacking of a business name by an unscrupulous operator can irreversibly damage a business, trademark laws were enacted to allow business names and emblems to become protected private property. A business name trademark is a bit like a patent in the sense that it allows the holder the exclusive use of the name for a period of time.
Navigate to the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and conduct an online search of your proposed business name to make sure that nobody is using it already. If someone is using your business name in a completely different line of business, this will not bar trademark protection of your business name ("Smith's Carpet Cleaning," for example, probably would not violate the trademark of Smith's Restaurant).
Use your business name publicly in connection with your business because trademark rights attach automatically when an original business name is used. It is possible to file a trademark application for a business name that is not yet in use as long as the applicant intends to use it in the future (and subsequently carries out that intention).
File an online trademark application with the USPTO. You will need to supply the date that your business name was first used, submit a specimen photo showing how your business name is actually being used, and classify your business name according to its line of business (chemicals, for example). You will also have to pay a filing fee of several hundred dollars (this amount varies according to details of the application).
Answer any questions about your trademark from the USPTO while your trademark application is pending. If you fail to respond adequately, your trademark application will be denied. You will not receive a refund of your application fee, but you will be able to appeal the denial to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
Renew your trademark registration at required intervals by filing an affidavit of use along with the required filing fee. An affidavit of use must be filed between the fifth and sixth years after initial registration, between the ninth and 10th years, and every 10 years thereafter. If timely filing is not made, the trademark registration will lapse.
Original trademarks attach automatically as long as they are actually used. Consequently, there is no legal requirement that a trademark be registered. Nevertheless, there are significant business advantages to doing so, especially in cases of infringement.
If you fail to consistently use your business name without a good reason, your trademark protection will lapse, even if it is registered.
Tips and warnings
- Original trademarks attach automatically as long as they are actually used. Consequently, there is no legal requirement that a trademark be registered. Nevertheless, there are significant business advantages to doing so, especially in cases of infringement.
- If you fail to consistently use your business name without a good reason, your trademark protection will lapse, even if it is registered.