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Business Trademarks: What’s Really in a Name?

If you’re thinking of starting a business (or already have a business in the works), make sure that the name you use is not already taken. Original names are essential for three reasons: marketing power, clarity, and trademark infringement avoidance. For example, if you’ve decided to open a coffee shop, it’s fairly easy to determine that the name “Starbucks” is not an option. But, what about “Smith’s?” And what happens if the “Smith’s” trademark is an auto insurance company in your town?

What’s Really in a Name When it Comes to Business Trademarks?

Before attempting to trademark your business’s name, find out if the name is available on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website. TESS, the Trademark Electronic Search System database, will indicate whether someone else has already claimed the name or symbol you want to use.

● While U.S. common law trademark protection is granted to the first company to use it in its operational geographic area (regardless of registration), a company that registers the trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office will generally have a stronger case in court.

● In some situations, the similarities between names or symbols may be negligible. That’s where a business attorney with intellectual property experience can help.

Often, there’s generally a way to accommodate both companies – especially when it comes to businesses with similar names, but dissimilar products (the “Smith’s” example above); those whose geographical locations may not conflict; and those whose names are too generic (for example, “The Clothing Store”).

Domain Extensions as Trademarks

In today’s marketplace, many businesses have both a physical location and an online presence. The question then becomes whether to trademark the company name (for example, Amazon), the URL (, or both. It’s generally recommended that companies with an internet presence not register their web extensions (such as .com, .net, etc.) with their name unless planning to register the mark both with and without the web extension. The reason is that other businesses registering the same name can do so by just adding a different (non-registered) extension and cause a great deal of confusion for customers.

A prime example is Craigslist. The multi-purposed classified ad site is technically a “.org” site, but those who searched for or were often led astray. The company now has trademarks for all, so typing in the latter extensions now brings you to the main .org site.

If you have questions about business trademarks, call or contact our office and we’ll guide you through trademark protections so your business and your efforts are protected.

To read more about trademarks and infringement, click here.


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