In February, we gave you a few pointers on brainstorming for names for your business. Now it's time to look into trademarking that name. But how do you know if the name really belongs to you?
Before you order that sign and print reams of stationery, consider the following advice from Glenn A. Gundersen, a partner in law firm Dechert, Price & Rhoads in Philadelphia and author of Trademark Searching (The International Trademark Association):
- Use caution if you want to trademark a business name that contains your surname. "If you contribute your surname to the business and then you sell the business, you, your children or your relatives might not be able to use the surname again in that type of business," says Gundersen.
- Don't choose a descriptive name; you can't obtain trademark protection. (An example is a car battery called "Long-lasting Battery.") "If a name just describes a product or tells what the business is, everyone who competes in that business ought to be able to use it," Gundersen explains. "You can [develop names] that give you a sense of the product or business without telling you exactly what it is. Die Hard batteries are a good example. The name suggests long life without saying it."
- Choose a few names and then do trademark searches on them. Check the obvious sources, such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), business lists and industry directories, then have an attorney do a full-scale search. It will cost less to hire an attorney now than to change your business name later.
- Decide if you want to register the name as a trademark. You can have trademark protection without registering, but it will be limited to the area where you're doing business. Trademark registration gives you national rights to your chosen name.
For more information, call the PTO at (800) PTO-9199 or visit its Web site at http://www.uspto.gov
Dechert, Price & Rhoads, (215) 994-2183, firstname.lastname@example.org