So you’ve registered your business name with the state … great! Now you might be wondering, “Should I take the extra step of filing for a trademark?”
Many new business owners have asked me that question. Ultimately, the decision is yours. But before making it, you should understand the protections offered by a trademark vs. a registered name only.
The Protection You Will—And Won’t—Get Without a Trademark
Once the state approves your LLC or corporation application, your name is protected in the state. The state will not allow any other business to form an LLC or corporation using your name. Although that does provide some protection, there’s still the chance that another business operating as a sole proprietorship or partnership might use your name. They will not be able to register the name as an LLC or corporation, but they could still provide similar products and services within your market—even within the town.
And registering your name with the state won’t prevent any business in the other 49 states from using your name. For example, if you registered your business name in Idaho, nothing prevents another entrepreneur in Indiana from establishing an LLC or corporation using your company’s name.
Will brand protection at the state level be sufficient for your business? Maybe. Or maybe not. It depends on the type of business and your business model. If there’s little chance that customers will become confused and mistake another business for yours, the state protection might be all you really need. For instance, if you start a landscaping business serving customers within a 40-mile radius of your office, you may not care if another landscaping company in a different state uses your name. After all, you won’t be competing for the same customers.
If, however, you’ve got your sights set on expanding your business and selling your products and services beyond your state’s boundaries, you’ll want to seriously consider protecting your name on a federal level with a trademark.
Trademark Protection for More Peace of Mind
By definition, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design (or a combination of any of them) identifying the source of a product or service. It also serves to distinguish brands from their competitors.
Granted at the federal level by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), trademarks can be approved for distinctive names, slogans, and logos.
A trademark owner has exclusive rights—at the state and federal level—to the trademark, therefore preventing anyone else selling similar goods and services from using it anywhere within the United States.
Preventing confusion in the marketplace is the primary purpose of trademarks. The protection a trademark provides will apply to only a particular category of goods and services. For instance, even if you had a trademark approved for your restaurant name “Dig In,” an excavating company might be able to form a company using the exact same name. Consumers would most likely never confuse the excavating company with yours, even though they share the same name.
TM vs. ®
Even if you haven’t officially applied to register a trademark for your company, you might consider conveying the name is yours by using TM (or SM for “service mark”) after it.