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Growing Your Business When You Can't Trademark Your Name

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I found out that I can't trademark my brand name. How can I make sure this doesn't adversely affect the growth of my business?

As mom used to say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If you want to use your brand name as a domain name for a website – but someone else already owns that trademark – they can potentially dispute your use of that name online. Courts can and have, depending on the circumstances, ordered businesses to stop using a name and pay damages, when they determine that trademark has been infringed upon.

Regardless, I strongly suggest you check with a trademark attorney to insure that in your specific situation, you are in the clear to continue using your brand name. If there is a problem, you might consider a slight change to avoid costly legal battles down the line.

Related: When Business Names Confuse Consumers: The Basics of Trademark Law

If there’s no conflict, you might not be able to trademark your name for other reasons. For instance, if you ran a bakery called “Thompson’s” you can’t reserve exclusive use of that surname until you can prove “acquired distinctiveness.” So in this case, you’d need to run your business for several years and ensure that your products and services stand apart in your market, with unique events or offerings that could not be found anywhere else and then reapply.

Of course, if your bakery is called “Thompson’s” growth will depend on some aggressive marketing to distinguish you from hardware stores and shoe shops that might also be run by a Thompson. Be aggressive and build an online footprint with a blog or social media presence and outreach to LinkedIn connections or other appropriate influencers in your industry. Your strategy should also include getting to know the reporters who cover your field and becoming an expert resource they can go to for quotes when needed.

Related: The 4 Building Blocks of a Strong Digital Presence

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