Registering your band name can be a daunting prospect. It is, however, necessary, especially for bands who make it out of the garage and onto the stage or into the recording studio. The good news is, it isn't that difficult, and you don't even need a manager to get it done.
Making Sure Your Band Name Isn't Taken
Before you register your band name, make sure it's available. There are several websites, such as Bandname.com or BandNameProtection.org, that allow you to search both national and international band name registries to see if another band already has your band name trademarked. While those are good places to start, you should also search the U.S. Patent Office's Trademark Electronic Search System, which is the final word, at least within the U.S., on whether or not a band name is taken.
Common Law Trademark
If you have been performing or recording under your band name, you might already hold "common law" rights to the name within your particular region. This would prevent any other bands from using the same name commercially within the same region. If a band from another region with common law rights to the same name wished to go national under that name, they would first have to get permission or purchase your common law rights from your band. The down side to this is that if your band wanted to go national, it would have to do the same.
Protection and Prevention
For a small-time band, a common law trademark might be all you need. But it's best to take the necessary steps to come up with a name that is unique to your band, and to have that name legally trademarked so that nobody can use it without your consent.
The websites listed above also allow you to add your band name to their respective registries. However, to receive full legal protection, including the right to sue for trademark infringement, you will need to register your band name with the U.S. Office of Patents and Trademarks.
That sounds simple enough. However, according to music industry attorney Alan Korn, it isn't enough just to come up with an original name. To be eligible for a federal trademark, you have to be able to prove that you've used the name commercially, in more than one state. This might sound hard, but if your band has sold any CDs or MP3s under your band name, or even simply advertised a performance or a tour that covered more than one state, then you're covered. If you've advertised or sold records only within your own state, don't despair---you'll still be eligible for a trademark at the state level.
If you've settled on the perfect name but have yet to perform under it, you can also reserve a federal trademark by filing an "Intent To Use" registration with the Patent Office. This puts a hold on the name while you build up commercial proof that it should belong to your band.
The bad news is the cost. At £211 for a first-time registration request (plus an additional £65 for Intent To Use requests), you definitely want to make sure your band name is a keeper before you have it trademarked. If it is, then the cost of the trademark is low compared to the benefits of knowing your band name legally belongs to you.