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How to trademark a business name and protect your brand

Entrepreneur researching how to trademark business name

Key takeaways

  • Trademarks give you the right to exclusively use a business name within specific categories, such as jewelry products or wine and spirits
  • Businesses must maintain their trademarks by filing Section 8 Declarations and taking action on trademark infringement
  • Having a trademark in the U.S. gives you the chance to register your trade name globally

Your business name is invaluable for making your brand stand out. As part of your brand’s identity, it’s important to protect your business name to maximize potential growth. 

While registering your business in your state can help create a distinct brand in your local geographic area, trademarking your business name is key to building a strong brand that’s recognized across the country. Here’s what you need to know about trademark registration.

How to trademark a business name

Issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a registered trademark is a type of intellectual property that gives exclusive rights to use your business name to sell certain products or services. With a registered trademark, your brand has state and federal legal protection, preventing other companies from using the same name to sell a similar good or service. Follow these steps to claim your unique trade name in the U.S.

1. Conduct a trademark search

To be eligible for trademark registration, your business name has to be distinct enough from other business names that sell similar types of goods or services. For instance, a coffee shop named “Coffee Lyfe” probably wouldn’t be able to trademark their name if another business named “Coffee Life” is already registered.

In short, if there’s any likelihood of confusion with an existing trademark, your business name can’t be trademarked. To figure out if similar trademarks exist, search the federal trademark database. Head to the USPTO‘s Trademark Electronic Search System, and conduct a word mark search to begin.

Also, search the web to see if other companies are using your business name to sell similar goods or services. Even if they don’t have an active trademark, trademarks are always awarded to the business that can prove it used the name first.

Keep in mind that descriptive business names are hard to trademark. For instance, it’s highly unlikely the USPTO would approve a trademark application for “The Pizza Shop” —even if no other pizza businesses are using the name and you’ve already registered the name at the state level. However, if a toy business wanted to trademark “The Pizza Shop,” this would have a higher likelihood of approval.

2. Prepare for your trademark application

Trademark business name: entrepreneur working at home

The most time consuming part of the trademark application process is compiling all of the information that you need to submit. Gather the following details to ensure that your filing goes smoothly:

  • The name and address of the person or business entity that will own the trademark
  • Your citizenship
  • The business’s legal entity (individual, sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, or corporation)
  • A detailed description of the trademark, which should mention all significant literal and design elements (for instance, a design element or a particular font style, size or color)
  • A drawing of the trademark (only necessary if you want a specific design trademarked)
  • The date the trademark was first used and an example of how it’s used
  • A list of goods or services that the trademarked entity offers 
  • Your trademark class; think about your signature category—for example, do you make handcrafted jewelry, manufacture medical supplies, or sell furniture?

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3. Complete your trademark filing

When you’re ready to file, you can choose between two filing options on the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS): 

  • TEAS Plus: Most small business owners use this version, which is the simpler of the two and more affordable at $250 per class; it requires that the Trademark ID Manual includes a description of the goods and services that you sell
  • TEAS Standard: You’ll have to use this option if the Trademark ID Manual doesn’t include a description of the goods and services that you sell; it has a filing fee of $350 per class.

Get more info on the differences between the two. Once you submit your application, you’ll get a filing receipt, which includes a serial number that you can use to check your federal registration status. If the USPTO finds any issues with your application, you’ll receive a letter, which will give you a certain time frame for responding (usually around six months) before your filing expires.

4. Maintain your trademark rights

After successfully trademarking your business name, you’ll need to maintain your trademark to keep it. Every 5–6 years, the federal government requires trademark holders to file a Section 8 Declaration to confirm they still use their trademark(s). Expect to pay $225 per class to file this declaration or $525 per class when filing with a trademark renewal (every 10 years).

You’ll also need to take action if trademark infringement occurs. First, send a cease and desist letter via certified mail to the infringing company. If they don’t stop using your registered trademark, seek legal advice from an attorney who specializes in trademark law. Your trademark protection is only as strong as your enforcement of it, so it’s important to take action.

Benefits of a trademarked name

Registered Trademark stamp

Trademarking your business name at a federal level isn’t a requirement for doing business. That’s because when you register your business at the state level—or file a Doing Business As (DBA) if you’re a sole proprietorship or partnership—you’ll already have exclusive rights to use your business name to sell your goods or services within your state. However, registering your trade name at the federal level can have a number of benefits.

National legal protection 

With a trademarked business name, you can build your brand nationwide without worrying about other companies stealing your brand identity. Your trademark ownership will be recorded in the USPTO‘s database, which will prevent other business owners from infringing on your rights. If trademark infringement does occur, you’ll have the right to sue other entities for damages if they don’t rebrand after you send a cease and desist letter.

This legal protection increases your brand equity (the monetary value of your brand), which allows you to charge more for your products. In the same way that customers will pay more for Nike products than generic athletic wear, you’ll be able to grow your brand name’s desirability by ensuring that no other companies use it.

Register your trademark worldwide

Once you trademark a business name in your country, you can use the Madrid System to register your trademark internationally. With one application on the Madrid System, you can get trademark protection in more than 100 countries, helping you expand your business globally.

Build trust with your consumers

Anyone can use the trademark symbol (™), which is used for selling products, or service mark symbol (℠), which is used for selling services, to stake a claim on their business name. However, when the United States Patent and Trademark Office has registered your trademark, you have the legal right to use the registered trademark symbol (®) wherever your trade name appears, which gives your business and brand more legitimacy.

Trademark your business name to protect your brand

When you trademark a business name with the USPTO, you ensure that no similar businesses in the U.S. can use your name or branding, thus building a distinct brand that consumers remember.

Registering a trademark only takes a few steps. After conducting a trademark search to ensure your business name is eligible, prepare your application and file. Once your trademark is registered, maintain it by taking action against businesses that infringe on your rights and filing Section 8 Declaration every 5–6 years. After building authority and consumer trust with your trademark, dive deeper into the branding of your small business.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.