Protecting Your New Business From Trademark Infringement Liability Exposure
Choosing a name for your new business is an important decision that could have a major impact on your company’s profitability. Before choosing a name for your business (not necessarily your corporate name, the name of your limited liability company or partnership because those could be different), it is important to take these important first steps:
Perform a federal trademark search to ensure your business name is not already being used. You can conduct this search on the U.S. Patent and Trademarks website.
Perform a state trademark search to ensure your business name is not already being used. While different states have different laws concerning the duration of trademarks, some trademarks may expire or may have already expired by the time you start your business. The owners of those marks may still have the right to use the name if their trademark has expired so be sure to consult with legal counsel before proceeding.
Make sure any domain name used for your company’s website is not similar enough to a famous company’s domain name so as to expose yourself to a claim of cybersquatting, or using a well-known name within the body of a domain name that causes confusion about whether the website represents your company or some other company.
Be careful crafting a logo as a symbol for your company; logos are also routinely trademarked as well. In January, the City of Portland announced that it planned to sue Pabst Blue Ribbon for that company’s use of an iconic downtown Portland sign in a promotional event logo.
Being found liable for federal trademark violations under the Lanham Act can be very costly. Courts can and sometimes do assess damages equivalent of triple the amount of profits a company garners during the period of the infringement. Better to take precautions up front rather than pay a big price later.