Just when you think you’re ready to launch your new company with a great business name, you may want to back up a bit first. For starters, although that name may be unique and memorable, it may also already be taken.
To ensure that you don’t find yourself in the middle of a complicated legal mess, here are our top four ways to effectively play the name game and pick a business name that sticks:
Do some basic research on the business name
Without a lot of effort, you can do an Internet search for your proposed name to see if another business is already using it. You will likely discover that the name is in use with other companies. However, if those other businesses are operating in different industries than you or even in other states, you may still be able to use this name, says Joel Lehrer, an intellectual property attorney in the Boston office of Goodwin Procter LLP.
If it appears that the business name is not in use in your local area or industry, you can then conduct a more comprehensive search in your state. This database in Massachusetts, for example, allows you to search for companies in the commonwealth so you will know whether a similar business with the same name already exists.
Find out if the domain name is available
Since a website is critical to most businesses, you’ll want to make sure you can register a domain name that is similar to your company name. Choosing a domain name that is completely different from your brand identity will not only confuse your customers but make it difficult to locate your company on the Internet. You can easily do a domain name search via the website of just about any company that sells domain names, like com or Register.com.
If you’re all set to begin using your new name and plan to run a local service business, you can file a trademark at the state level. This is often easier and less costly than securing a federal trademark, says Lehrer. A state trademark will protect your business from another entity opening up with the same name in your state trade area. However, if you plan to operate your business nationally or across state lines, you may want to consider federal trademark protection, explains Lehrer. To find out if a federal trademark is available for your name, you can start with a search on the S. Trademark Database.
On your mark, get set, go
If your name is available on the trademark database, you would be best served by filing for that mark so you can legally secure the name. You can do this yourself via the Patent and Trademark Office website, but you may be better off filing through an online legal serviceor hiring a trademark attorney. The U.S. government charges between $275 and $325, and that will be your bottom line regardless of which way you choose to file. Keep in mind that hiring a skilled trademark attorney may cost more in the short term, but it could save you thousands down the line as you’ll be working with someone who deals with solving trademark snafus on a daily basis.
Once your application is filed, an attorney from the U.S. Patent Office will examine your trademark and may contact you or your lawyer with any questions. You should find out whether your trademark application has been approved in about six months.