I registered my business with the Vermont Secretary of State. Is my name legally protected?
Unfortunately, no. Unlike motor-vehicle registries, the purpose of the Secretary of State’s registry is merely to create a public directory of business owners. If the name is not also registered as a federal trademark, it’s not legally protected. On occasion, the Secretary of State will allow more than one business to register a given name.
I registered a domain name that contains my brand name. Is my brand legally protected?
No. Online domain-name registrars will check for a conflict with existing domain names, which can help you determine if another similarly named brand already exists. But the registrars don’t check for conflicts in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s records, so they won’t discover if the name is in use. Under federal law, a person who registers a domain name that contains the registered trademark of someone else must give up the domain name.
Is it safe to assume that my name is fine to use if I can’t find it used elsewhere online?
An internet search is one step in “clearing” a name for use in a new business, but it is not enough. It is necessary also to search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s records.
My business will be strictly local: one brick-and-mortar retail store or restaurant. I don’t need a Federal trademark registration, do I?
You may not, but think ahead. Will your business ever have a website? If so, it will instantly acquire an international presence, despite its local nature. If your brand name is original and attractive, someone else may either already have thought of it, or may copy it from you once you go “live.” Even if the other business is local to some distant state, its owner may register the name with Patent and Trademark, and then attempt to take the name away from you. If you have not registered, you may lose the name entirely, or at best be unable ever to expand.
When should I involve a trademark lawyer in the naming process?
Before you spend money on labels, prepaid directory entries, signs or other promotional items. A trademark lawyer can help you steer clear of a name that you will eventually have to change. They can also help you craft advertising that will establish your name as a trademark. Merely using your brand name as the name of your business entity is not enough to establish your rights to a trademark registration.
For more information on intellectual-property law, contact Doug at 802-657-7247 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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