Companies use trade names and trademarks to distinguish themselves from competitors. A trade name brands the company and gives potential customers a way to remember the company. The process of selecting a trade name begins with a search for existing trade names registered by other companies. Selecting a trade name used by another business can make a company liable for trademark infringement. Therefore, a business needs to check multiple sources for trade names before making a final decision on a company name.
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Use broad searches when you check for trade names. The use of any trade name or trademark that is likely to be confusingly similar to another company's name or mark can lead to trademark infringement. For example, a company that uses "Zebra Computers" may have an infringement claim against a new company that uses "Big Zebra Computers" as a trade name. Using a broad search such as "zebra" returns more results. However, it is more likely to prevent the selection of a confusingly similar name.
Use the trademark search feature of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to check for federally registered trade names. Not all companies register a federal trademark with the USPTO. However, the companies that take the time to register a federal mark may take an aggressive stance in protecting their intellectual property. Use the option to search for both live and dead (expired) trademarks. Companies with dead trademarks may still be using that name.
Use CorpNet to determine if a business name is available in your state. Choose your state in the search options to search for trade names registered with your state's Secretary of State. This database will only determine if your name is available for registration. It will not replace a trademark search to ensure against trademark infringement.
Find the website for your state's Secretary of State. Look for a searchable database of trade names registered in the state. For example, Vermont has an online business database to search for Vermont registered corporations, trade names and trademarks. Call the Secretary of State to check for individual trade names in that state.
Check with your local county clerk for available trade names. Some states allow certain business entities to register a trade name only at the county level. For example, private partnerships and sole proprietors who want to use a "doing business as" name in Texas must register with the local county. The county clerk maintains a database of trade names registered in that county.
Tips and warnings
- Use all possible sources when checking for trade names. Some databases may not contain newer or older registered names. Using all sources allows you to pick a trade name that is available and will not infringe the rights of other companies.
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