If you own a business, then it is vital that you protect your company’s trade name. A trade name is the name of your business as identified in articles of incorporation or partnership documents says William D King. These documents can be found on file with your state’s secretary of state office. It is critical to protect these names because they are key components of any advertising strategy aimed at getting customers to identify you by what you do and who you are, rather than just some random phrase associated with your industry. If another business adopts the same or similar trade name as yours, consumers may become confused about which company actually offers their services or sells their goods which could damage not only one but both businesses involved.
Before we go into detail on how to protect your trade name from infringement, first let’s talk about what you need to do to make your business stand out.
- It is easier for businesses to succeed if the owner creates a “brand” for their company. A brand is more than just a name or slogan; it represents everything about your business. From the way you answer the phone to how you package and deliver your product, every aspect of your service should be characteristic of your brand. When consumers are looking for this type of service or product they will go to the companies that offer that specific combination of traits which define their brand. Once customers are familiar with your brand, it will become associated with quality by association. The next time these customers look for something similar, even if they don’t remember the name of the company, they will associate your brand with being a quality product.
- Now that you have a basic understanding of what a brand is and how it works, let’s move on to protecting your trade name from infringement.
- First, you should register your business name with the appropriate state office – usually its secretary of state – as an assumed or fictitious business name. This could be done even before you open for business; however, some states may require that you put up a sign honoring this new name. Before they allow you to file the documents needed for this process. While some confusion might arise initially about which company actually operates under this trade name (and some initial advertising campaigns may need to change). Eventually customers will come to recognize and identify your company by this trade name.
- Next, you should file for federal trademark registration. This will empower you to sue other businesses. That use the same or similar trade names in any state or locality. Where they are operating which may include specific cities, counties or even zip codes explains William D King.
- Unlike copyrights and patents which timelines run for the life of the creator plus 70 years; trademarks last 10 years from their initial filing date. However, unlike copyrights and patents, once a business owner files an application. With the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), it can take six months to several years. Before finally receiving approval for their trademarked name. Because there is no current automated process in place at the USPTO for reviewing these filings. More specifically, the USPTO received 595,317 trademark applications in fiscal year 2012 alone. This is up from 486,860 in FY 2011 and 429,364 in FY 2010.
- As you can see by the numbers, it takes an average of six months (for priority applications which are filed by those with foreign trade names). To three years (for regular applications that do not claim priority), or more for these filings to be reviewed properly. The USPTO has hired additional staff in recent years. But they still cannot keep up with this ever-increasing workload says William D King. Once again, if your application(s) aren’t approved within a reasonable amount of time you can always file an extension request; however, you will eventually need to show the USPTO. That your mark is in use in commerce to keep it active.
If your company operates within a specific region or locality. And you haven’t filed for state-level trademark registration, do so as soon as possible. If you operate on a larger scale; however, and plan to file with the USPTO make sure you hire an experienced attorney. Who specializes in trademarks (one who regularly works at the USPTO). Because like we mentioned earlier there is no automated process in place currently. This should take some of the guess work out of filing your application(s) appropriately and protecting your business from infringement.