Choosing a Business Name: Introduction to Trademark

Sometimes the simplest tasks can be the most complicated which is often fodder for jokes. And choosing an effective business or product name can mean the difference between projecting your brand as professional and making a list for worst business names. While it is possible to kick start your ideas with a wide variety of name generators, it is important to keep in mind a basic understanding of laws that protect legal rights to use specific names for businesses, products and/or services. 

Trademark law violation could force you to change your business name and possibly pay damages to another business for infringing on a competitor’s name if you select a name too similar to theirs. Avoiding this potential pitfall will save you other expenses such as costs associated with changing signs, domain names, and invoices, not to mention the potential loss of clients from a name change.

Key terms used when describing laws associated with business naming:

Legal name of a sole proprietorship: full name of the owner. Where a partnership agreement is written this could be the name of the partnership or the individual names of the owners. For corporations, LLC and limited partnerships, the legal name is that which is registered with the state filing office.

Trade name: the name that a business uses with the public.

Fictitious business name: a term used when the trade name is different from its legal name. It is also called a DBA name or “Doing Business As” name.

Corporate name/ LLC name/ Limited Partnership name: legal name of a business that is registered with the Secretary of State.

Business name: can refer to any of the names used by a business mentioned above.

Trademark or mark: any word, phrase, design, symbol used to market a product or service.

Service mark: identifies a service. Service mark rules are almost identical to trademark rules, and therefore some experts refer to regulation that pertains to both as simple legal ‘mark’ rules.

With these key terms clarified, it is easier to navigate through trademark information. It is wise to research whether someone else has rights to a mark prior to pursuing that name after you decide on a potential name for your business. According to the Texas Secretary of State, it is the responsibility of the person seeking to register a mark to avoid infringing on marks of others. You can search federally registered marks online through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or in person at a Patent and Trademark Resource Center on the 6th floor of the Dallas Public Library at 1515 Young Street.

Registered Texas marks can be searched through the Texas Secretary of State by phone and email for free or through an online resource for $1.00 per search.  It is important to know that you cannot reserve a mark. It must, therefore be in use in Texas before filling out an application. Check out the guides and resources or come into the Central Downtown Library for assistance on trademarks. Although your small business is starting out here in Dallas, it is smart to think about the future and avoid trademark conflicts on a state or national level. Then, if you decide to expand your business, you won’t have to worry about future trademark issues.