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If you own a small business or are planning on establishing one, you need to pay close attention to protecting your chosen business name and associated brand while at the same time making sure you do not infringe on established trademarks of other businesses. Of course, many small business owners don’t think about trademark law until it is too late.

Thus, in this weeks post we want to provide a brief overview of what you need to know!

The Basics

Trademarks are a form of intellectual property that can consist of one word, a phrase, photos, logos sounds or other identifying marks that distinguish one particular brand from another similar one.

For example, everyone associates big yellow arches with the famous hamburger seller, McDonald’s. A man named Donald could not open a business using yellow arches to sell sandwiches without infringing on McDonald’s trademark, the big yellow arches.

There a few steps you should take that will both protect your own trademark while at the same time keep you from infringing the trademark of another business.

  1. Choose a business name. But, before opening the doors for business, you should do an extensive trademark search to make sure that the chosen name is not already being used by another similar business. There are companies that provide this service that will search all available state and federal data bases. Read more about trademark searches in our post, How to Perform a Trademark Search.
  2. If a similar business is found using the same or similar chosen name, you might consider choosing another name to avoid a dispute.
  3. If no conflicts are discovered, register the chosen name as a trademark with the USPTO (more on that here). You should also seriously consider hiring a knowledgeable trademark attorney for this process. It will avoid snafus that may be costly and time-consuming.

That is how you can go about choosing and protecting your name. Trademark litigation is a whole other beast!

Trademark Infringement

Always keep in mind that if you use another company’s trademark in commerce in such a way as to cause consumer confusion, you can be sued for trademark infringement. Defending such a suit can be costly and you should always strive to avoid this unfortunate situation by conducting a trademark search as outlined above.

On the other side of the coin, you should make sure to police your trademark whenever possible. This is because if you allow other businesses to use your trademark without objection, you may lose your right to sue. If you come across an infringer, or if you encounter any consumer confusion, you should immediately speak to an attorney to learn more about your rights.

Help on the Internet

Luckily, in today’s connected world, there are many online resources you can use to protect your rights and help you avoid infringing the rights of others.

One resource is MightyMarks®, our virtual trademark application process. If you have questions about protecting your mark, we recommend you reach out to us to discuss how we can help you!

Image: Thinkstock/StudioM1
*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.