How Can I Protect My Business Name?
No doubt, choosing a unique business name is important. Besides being easy to remember, your chosen name should also be available online. Potential customers may end up being confused if your business name sounds too similar to an existing company. You may also get in legal trouble for this. When naming your business you better avoid this in the first place.
However, even after ensuring your name is unique, the issue isn’t concluded yet. Other businesses may also try to use your business name. This can be both accidental as well as intentional to hurt your business. There’s no guarantee that everyone will try their best to avoid confusion and make sure to give their business a unique name as you have done. Below, you get tips to protect your name from being used by others as well as to minimize the damage, if others are already using your name.
Better Safe Than Sorry: How To Protect Your Business Name
Getting your business name trademarked is not mandatory but it certainly serves as an additional layer of protection. In case anyone conducts a trademark search (see EUIPO Trademark Search for the EU), they will immediately know of your registration and (hopefully) move on to another name. And if someone rushes to use it with a prior trademark check, you can simply show them the registered trademark and they will most likely avoid further trouble and go on to change their business name. A trademark registration will also protect you in court as admissible evidence.
As mentioned, you don't have to trademark your business name and might be still protected (to some degree). You are required to register your business according to the local laws. And the paper trail resulting from this can serve as evidence for your claim on the name, in case there’s no trademark protection. Even mere registration offers basic protection and exclusivity. With agreements between individual countries and larger international free trade agreements becoming more and more of a reality, this can even span further than you might expect. This can also work in reverse and only a registered trademark in the right categories will protect you completely.
Additionally, an online presence will help a ton, be it legally or commercially. Set up profiles on at least two social media platforms such as a Business Page on Facebook and a Twitter account. You can also present yourself on Google My Business, Yelp, and, of course, your own website. Don’t forget to link all profiles back to your own website.
Assess the Damage
Even after proper due diligence, your business name might still end up getting copied. To tackle this, assess the damage by finding more information about that company. Are they a direct competitor? Companies with similar names in very different industries aren’t competitors in this sense. A burger shop called “Jake’s Burgers and Fries” isn’t a competitor to “Lawyer Jake Miller”. Both can easily exist in the same town without causing much confusion to customers. Same goes for companies in the same industry but at a significant distance from each other. “Jake’s Burgers” from New York doesn’t need to file a lawsuit to stop “Jake’s Burgers and Fries” in London in the UK. For online businesses, the distance gets less noticeable as two might serve the same customers, even if located in very different places. Here a national or international trademark on a name might become more important.
What if a business, located in another country, is using your name? Such a situation will only become a hurdle if you're also operating in that area. But one has to be careful of not missing out by applying too late for trademark registration. If someone else has also arrived in the area in which you operate, you will still have to prove the existence of harm caused by them.
Take Action to avoid turn damage
After confirming the presence of harm, gather the required documents. Make sure to include your trademark papers or your business license registration, as well as any other paperwork that backs up the date on which your business was established. You will also need to collect any evidence that confirms the harm suffered by your company. Questions such as:
- “Which business was established earlier?”
- “Which business was trading under the business name in question first?”
will be of interest.
Of course, the earlier you can catch the copycat, the better. If that business is still in its early stages, a simple email alerting them about this could be sufficient. No young business would wish to go through this hassle and compete with a company that is already established. If it doesn’t get resolved at this point, getting an attorney who specializes in trademark law should be your next best step. A legal professional might be able to resolve the issue by simply sending a “cease and desist letter".
A similarly-named business probably won't mess up your customer base. But one should always keep an eye on any emerging signs of harm and take action as quickly as possible to avoid long-term damage.
The information provided above is generalized and educational. It does not constitute as legal advice on any subject matter. Always consult a legal professional, when in doubt. No warranty expressed or implied is made regarding accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of any information provided.