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At Mighty Marks®, we like to break down the complexities of trademark law to help you protect your brand. Luckily, sometimes pop culture helps us out and, as illustrated in HBO’s hit series Silicon Valley, trademark law can even provide entertainment.

Richard, the primary founder of the startup featured in the show, spends most of Episode 3 worried about his company’s name: Pied Piper, Inc.

After receiving a check for $200,000 from an investor, Richard learns of the many problems ahead. Specifically, he didn’t own the company name and an irrigation company had federal trademark protection for the name. These are two issues that could have been easily avoided with a little due diligence. Let’s walk through each.

Business Names

First, he should have checked with his state’s Secretary of State to see if the company name was available. Each state maintains records of businesses formed in the state and two entities cannot have the exact same business name on file in the same state. Note this is not a trademark matter, this is a business law matter. Had he searched his state’s records, he would have found Pied Piper, Inc., the irrigation company. He then could have changed the name (even if just slightly) so he could have formed a business entity.

However, poor Richard now has a $200K check payable to “Pied Piper, Inc.” that he can’t cash because he doesn’t have a business entity under that name!

USPTO Registrations

Second, he should have checked the USPTO databases. Just last week we explained how to perform a preliminary “knockout” search including how to search the USPTO database. Had he searched the database, he would have found the irrigation company. He then could have picked a different name or sought federal protection for the name since his use (computer code) is different from the real Pied Piper’s use (irrigation).

But again, poor Richard is in a bind because he is now spending time and money dealing with something he could have prevented with a simple USPTO search.

Remember, when starting a business, just a little due diligence can go a long way. If you enjoy these posts, be sure to subscribe to our monthly newsletter to get more updates in your inbox!