Business owners should be aware of the difference between choosing a name for a new company and registering a trademark for your business and/or product.
The process of choosing a name for a company is necessary when creating a corporation or LLC (limited liability company). Once you have chosen a name, you should check your state’s Secretary of State website since many have searchable databases you can use to determine if the name is already in use. If the name is clear, the new company can reserve and use the name.
This name should be used on (1) the official documents creating the corporation; (2) filing regular tax returns on the local, state and federal levels; (3) any contracts, lease agreements or agreements to buy property entered into by the company; and (4) any stock offerings.
Although a company is not required to operate under the state registered name, most do. In any case, the name should be protected through trademark registration.
It is possible to secure registration of a trademark on either the state or federal level. If you secure a state trademark registration, other people or entities in your state cannot use the trademarked name without violating your company’s trademark. If you have a federal trademark, this protection exists with respect to any person or entity throughout the U.S.
Trademarks are used to protect a brand name and also apply for any logo associated with the company. Both names and associated logos can be trademarked and often one company will get multiple trademarks on the federal level to protect the name, the logo and combination of both. Violating someone’s trademark can expose you to legal liability.
If you try to use a name already reserved by a corporation or LLC, your Secretary of State’s office will inform you it is necessary to choose a different name. Once you reserve a name, it belongs to your LLC or corporation for the balance of the entity’s life. A state trademark expires after five years, although it can be renewed for five years at the end of each term. Federal trademarks expire in 10 years after the registration date unless they are renewed within one year prior to the date of expiration.