The first step you take as an official new business owner is to register your business with your state. You pick your entity or choice (LLC, corporation, etc.) or operate as a sole proprietor. Picking a business name is exciting as it conveys the message of your brand. But is a business name a trademark also?
Your Business Name
State registration of a business name requires a distinctive name but that doesn’t automatically equal trademark rights to the name.
For example, you can register your name “ABC Designwear LLC” and not have the exclusive right to the name in your state or the country. You may be the only ABC Designwear registered in the state but someone in a different county may use ABC Designwear as a DBA for their business.
Not all states cross-reference the use of DBAs with registered business name so there can be overlap. Registering your business name is necessary for state tax purposes but that doesn’t protect it from being used statewide or nationally.
Looking for exclusivity? That’s where trademark registration comes in. A trademark is a word, phrase, design or symbol that identifies your brand and distinguishes it from the products and services offered by another. It uniquely associates your brand name, products, tagline or logo with your business and gives you exclusive use of the mark.
Federal trademark registration can give you exclusive ownership of your business name. This is perfect for businesses building a national brand and wishing to secure a uniquely identifiable name for their business. It allows you to sue others for infringement if they use your brand name or one that is confusingly similar.
Common Law & State Trademark Registration
You may have heard about something called common law rights. These are trademark rights granted to users of a mark (i.e. a name, logo, slogan, etc.) that are limited to a certain geographical area of a state. If you market your products or services under your business name in your state and wish to stop a competitor from using your name, you could seek relief from a court under a common law trademark theory. It’s more challenging establishing these rights and preventing infringement using this approach.
State trademark registration gives you similar benefits of federal registration but only on a state level. It would give you more leeway to stop infringers on a local level and stronger rights than with a common law argument.
So while the answer is “no” as to whether a business name is a trademark (or at least not automatically), there are still plenty of ways to protect your business name after you register with your state. The strongest protection is federal trademark registration which will give your company the exclusivity and security it needs if you’re looking to operate on a national scale.
This blog posting is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not provided for specific, individual legal advice.