The importance of your startup’s name is hard to understate. Your name is the first step to making your business identifiable amongst a vast sea of competitors. It embodies your key attributes, and if done right, rolls off the tongue and triggers terrific stories.
Most entrepreneurs today understand the importance of a good name. Often times, however, many don’t understand the importance of protecting their business and product names.
Because trademark laws and issues can be complex, we’ve compiled some important facts and tips to help you navigate the trademark terrain.
A trademark protects names (Apple), symbols (Nike’s Swoosh) and other identifying marks that are used to identify the source of goods and services and ensures that other’s do not knowingly or unknowingly use a name that would make it difficult for a consumer to distinguish between the offerings of one company and another.
In the United States, first use establishes common law trademark rights, but these rights only cover the geographic area within which the trademark is used. A far better route is to secure a registration at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), as this provides nationwide rights to trademark.
The Polaroid factors
When it comes to enforcing trademarks, the Polaroid Factors — derived from a well-known court case — are used as a guide. Basically, the factors are a series of tests that allow the court to determine the likelihood of confusion between one mark and another.
Here is a deeper dive into understanding some of the elements examiners look at when reviewing a mark at a trademark office.
Preliminary or comprehensive screening?
Often times, business owners are unsure whether they should do a preliminary trademark screening or a comprehensive screening, also called a full screening. A preliminary trademark or “knock-out” search tells you that there are no obvious conflicts. But it does not uncover all potential issues.
A comprehensive trademark screening is performed by specialized search firms and trademark lawyers and, as its name suggests, is a more thorough search which can uncover names that may not be registered but could still pose a threat in the form of confusion.
So which should you choose?
If you have the budget, a comprehensive trademark search is always the better choice. But at the minimum, you should conduct a preliminary search. Whichever route you choose, make sure you do some sort of a search before you try to register your name — certainly before you use it in doing business.
The difference between trademarks and URLs
First off, it’s important to know that domain name registration doesn’t give you the right to a trademark. Just because you have registered a name doesn’t mean you have been granted a trademark. That comes through the USPTO, not a domain registry. In order for the domain name to be deemed a trademark, it must have received registration as a trademark.
Conversely, having a trademark does not automatically give you the right to a certain domain name. In order for a trademark …read more
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