For businesses just starting out, once you’ve got your initial idea in mind, the next step is usually coming up with a company name. And that makes sense: it’s how you’ll talk about your business, but more importantly, it’s the primary way your customers and prospective clients will identify you. Your company’s name is the linchpin for your brand and your identity in the mind of the public whom you’re trying to reach. You’ll probably put nearly as much work into building that brand as you will into the quality of your product or service itself. So it’s important to protect your hard work and brand equity by registering your company name as a trademark.

Since we’re talking about registering a trademark for a company name specifically, we’ll set aside the separate issue of your logo or “stylized” version of your name – that is, any rendering of your name aside from generic, normal font or type. When you register your company name alone as a trademark, you’re registering it in “standard character format.” Any embellishment beyond that is a “stylized” format and requires a separate filing. A trademark application for both your name and your logo is possible, but the standard character format filing affords you broader protection – it covers all use of your company name, rather than more limited instances of your name in conjunction with a particular design.

Why you should file a trademark for a company name:

It’s important to remember that your trademark is immensely valuable to your business. Think of it this way: your trademark stands for the protection of your reputation and good will as a company and a service provider. Your business is different from any other business out there, even if you’re selling the exact same things. Your trademark is where the meaning of that difference lies. The work that you have to put in to distinguish yourself – and give customers a reason to choose you – is the reason it’s critical to protect it. 

The process of obtaining a trademark for a company name: 

When you’re first coming up with the company name that you want to trademark, it’s best to think of abstract, uncommon terms. The United States Patent and Trademark Office will reject generic names, as well as names that do no more than describe a product, or the qualities of a product. Your company name needs to be easily distinguishable, unique to your industry or offering, and not easily mistaken for a similar company. Therefore, company names that have little or nothing to do with your company’s offering – or better yet, are “fanciful,” made-up words or terms – actually are your best bet for getting your trademark application approved.

As you’re deciding on a company name, you’ll probably do a bit of searching on your own to make sure that no one’s already thought of the same thing. That’s an important precursor to the real first step in trademarking your company name: the research phase. For the purposes of the trademark application, this needs to be an exhaustive search of all existing registered trademarks in the U.S., again, to make sure that you’re first. At this point, a general search engine query will not suffice. Trademark law holds that not only identical trademarks, but also marks that are similar, can be confusing for consumers, and so a newly requested mark cannot even be close to an existing one. General search engines simply don’t have the functionality to turn up the kinds of similar results that would indicate that your application may be rejected, and while the USPTO offers a slightly better tool, it’s usually best to have a trademark attorney utilize their experience along with more powerful software to properly conduct your research.

We’ve been talking a lot about “who’s first” with a trademark, so let’s clarify what that means. The privileges of a registered trademark legally go to the entity that can prove they’ve used it to sell goods or services first – regardless of registration status. However, once a trademark is registered, the registered holder of the mark gains an upper hand in that the burden of proof of infringement falls upon the claimant. Whichever position you may happen to be in, it’s always advantageous to register your trademark with the government sooner rather than later, when potential problems can arise.

Once you’ve satisfactorily completed your trademark research, you’ll move to the paper or electronic application stage. You or your attorney will fill out the official application available through the USPTO, taking care to avoid omissions or errors – the top reason for registration delays or denials.  Your application will then go to a USPTO attorney, who will conduct another review of all registered trademarks, to make certain that your mark isn’t already in use.

The USPTO review process can take some time – six to eight months, typically. At the close of that time frame, however, you’ll have a successfully registered trademark! One caveat: if you submitted your application as a mark with “intent to use,” rather than “in use,” you’ll be required to submit additional paperwork at this time. 

From here – apart from building the good will and strong reputation that you’ll want your trademark to have – your only official job will be to enforce your trademark. The government rules on infringement claims, but does not actively police instances of infringement or “generic use” – those are up to you to seek out and put a stop to or make a claim against. 

Trademarking your company name is a key step in building your business. It’s more than just a formality – it secures your sole claim to the success you’re trying to achieve.