Recently I wrote about the importance of ensuring that your desired corporate name is available, as a key step before filing to incorporate your company. Today, I will take an even broader view of protecting your corporate name. There are three important actions to take: reservation of your corporate name, owning your domain name, and obtaining trademark protection.
First, before you even file to incorporate your company, you need to make sure your desired name is available, and reserve it for your use. Individual states allow you to reserve a name for a specified period of time, which varies from state to state. For example, Delaware allows you to reserve a name for up to 120 days, for a modest $75 fee. Once you can really visualize incorporating your company, it would be foolish not to reserve your desired name. As discussed in this post, there are good reasons for incorporating as early as possible, too.
Second, purchase your domain name, with as many relevant extensions as make sense. Dot-com, dot-biz, and dot-net are a safe minimum, but there are many new extensions, some of which are industry-specific and may make sense. Also, if you are going to operate internationally, you may want to reserve country-specific domain names for the countries you expect to operate in.
The third element of protecting your name and brand is to file for trademark protection for your brand name and/or logo. A trademark identifies your company as the source of the product or service you are selling. Having a valid trademark is going to give you greater protection than just registering a domain name. For example, you could register a domain name, and then have to surrender that domain name if it infringes on someone else’s trademark.
You can file for trademarks that are currently being used in commerce, or for trademarks that you intend to use in commerce. If you file an intent-to-use application, the US Patent & Trademark Office will not register your trademark until you can show that you are actively using the trademark in commerce. Ideally, you should be filing your application around the same time that you incorporate your business, or soon after, but the timing will depend on a variety of factors. It can take the USPTO up to a year to process your trademark application, so you will want to initiate the process as early as possible. The application fee is $275 if you file the TEAS Plus application online, or $325 if you file the TEAS application online.
There are a number of benefits to registering your trademark:
- It discourages others from using confusingly similar marks, by making your mark easy to find in a trademark availability search
- It protects against registration of confusingly similar marks, because the USPTO will cite prior registrations against applications for confusingly similar marks, and refuse to register them
- Registration treats the mark as if used nationwide as of the application date, which gives you an advantage in the first-use-wins system; otherwise, your rights would be limited to the actual geographic area in which you are using the mark
- You will have the right to sue in federal court to protect your mark, and in certain cases, you can obtain treble damages and attorney fees
- You can use the R-in-a-circle symbol with your trademark, putting competitors on notice that you have registered your trademark (until it is registered, you can use the TM symbol).
Those are just a few of the many benefits that come from registering your trademark. By following name reservation and domain name purchases with a timely trademark application, you can secure maximum protection for your brand/company name.
Follow me on Twitter @PaulHSpitz