If you want to start a Minnesota business, you’ll want your future customers and clients to know who you are and to remember you. One way to do that is to choose a name or logo that will stick in your customers’ minds. But keep in mind that other businesses are doing the same thing, so you need to make sure you are not inadvertently using the name or logo of a company offering similar products services. Filing a trademark application is an effective way to protect your brand from infringement and to find out early if the name or logo you picked is already in use by somebody else. So, is it time to register a trademark for your small business? Let’s take a look.
Business Name vs. Trademark
Your business name may be your trademark. But it might not be — or it might not be your only trademark.
Your business name is how you identify your business with the State. When you file the paperwork, you give the Secretary of State’s office the name of your business, the business address, and some other information. In many — maybe even most — cases, businesses want their customers and clients to know that name, to recognize and remember it. If that’s how you use your business’s name, then it’s acting as a trademark.
But it might not be your only trademark. You might want trademarks for a line of your services or products. For example, a Rubric client that designs and publishes board games secures a separate trademark for each of its games. Protecting those product trademarks may be more important to you than protecting the name of your business.
What’s In A Name?
A lot, actually. At least when we’re talking about trademarks.
When you choose your business name or product name, there are two big questions to consider. First, is someone else already using it (or something a lot like it) to sell something similar to what you sell? If so, there are serious questions about whether you can use the name (or if you even want to). A search of the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) will help you find out if someone has already registered the trademark you hope for. So will a Google search (or Bing if you prefer).
Second, is your proposed trademark even registerable? To secure trademark protection or registration, marks need to be distinct. The question of what makes a mark distinct is beyond the scope of this particular post, but you should keep in mind that the more common or generic your product or business name is, the less likely it is that it gets trademark protection.
Seek Guidance From a Trusted Minneapolis IP Attorney
You don’t have to register your trademarks. Even without registration, you may be able to protect against competitors who use names or logos confusingly similar to yours. But there are limits on the scope of that protection for unregistered trademarks. Without a federally registered trademark, for example, you may find yourself limited to using your mark in your immediate area — such as your town or county. If you have to go to court to stop infringement, a trademark registration gives you a head start because it creates a presumption that your mark is distinctive enough to be protectable.
Whether the benefits of registration outweigh the costs will depend on your business. An experienced trademark lawyer can talk you through the options and help you make the choice that makes the most sense for you.
Interested in learning more about the trademark application process for your Minneapolis or St. Paul business? Call Rubric Legal LLC today at (612) 465-0074 to get started with a friendly IP attorney.