You’ve come up with a great business idea: You’ve spent the time developing a business plan, you’ve selected a business name, and you have even put together a few marketing ideas. Now, it is time to launch.
Before introducing your new business to the rest of the world, there are a few things to consider first: Is the business name you have chosen available and ready for use? Is the business name and the branding you have developed distinctive enough to separate your business from your competitors? If yes, what should you do to make sure your future competitors don’t encroach upon your hard-earned reputation?
To tackle these obstacles, there are three initial registrations I recommend to new business owners for the long term protection of their brand.
Domain Name Registration
Whether you are internet-saavy or not, every new business MUST develop a reputable web presence. Consumers are using internet resources now, more than ever, to make informed decisions before purchasing a product or service line. Social media, online review sites (Yelp, Google), and search engines are all capable of driving valuable web traffic to your website. For this reason, it is very important to register a domain name that clearly identifies your business and to register as quickly as possible — you don’t want to later find that someone else has registered a domain in your business name.
Domains are inexpensive and easy to acquire (if available); choose domains that you plan to use now and any domains you foresee the possibility of needing in the future (you can always release them, if you don’t need them). Lastly, don’t forget to keep track of domain renewals — you don’t want to lose a domain after developing a large and loyal web following. Cyber squatters are, unfortunately, a real threat; they keep track of popular domains which come up for renewal and whose owners fail to renew on time. What do they do with the domain once you’ve lost it? They’ll sell it back to you… for a pretty penny, of course.
Business Name Registration
Choosing a business name is perhaps one of the most significant decisions you’ll make as a business owner. The name conveys an implicit message to your consumers and will serve as your main brand identification. Before deciding upon a business name, it is important to ensure that the name is legally available. I recommend my business clients begin with a simple Google search to see what is out there. Any business with exactly the same name? Anything similar? Do any competitors have confusingly similar names? While a Google search does not constitute an exhaustive search, it provides a good place to start in order to narrow down your options. Next, check with the Texas Secretary of State for name availability, prior to submitting your initial formation documents (for an LLC, Corporation, etc.). In Texas, your business may not bear a name that is the same or deceptively similar to the name of another Texas entity (unless you receive consent). You can contact the Secretary of State here to find out whether or not the name you have in mind is available.
If the name is available, but you are not quite ready to move forward with incorporation or otherwise registering your business with the state, you can file a Name Reservation with the Secretary of State, which will hold your desired entity name for up to 120 days, subject to renewal. Reserving your business name as soon as possible is a step which must not be overlooked — you don’t want to begin developing a reputation and loyal customer base and then later discover that you cannot legally operate under the name you’ve been using all along.
Federal trademark registration is a valuable tool for brand protection; unfortunately, many new business owners are intimidated by the process or feel that their businesses are not large enough to warrant trademark registration. Even if you don’t feel ready to consult with a trademark attorney for formal registration, there are simple steps you can take to begin protecting your brand immediately.
Properly utilized trademarks serve to accomplish one main goal: to protect your brand from confusion within the marketplace and to prevent unfair competition. In other words, the marks which you seek to protect as a business owner can be guarded from use by competitors so that consumers don’t confuse a different product or service with your own. Business owners can trademark a business name, slogan, symbol, design — even a scent, if it makes sense. A full trademark discussion warrants its own blog post, so I will briefly summarize with two main objectives for new business owners:
- Consider trademarks, at the very least, for your business name, slogan, and the name of your main product or service line. Consult the USPTO database of registered trademarks (here) to determine whether or not the trademark you intend to use has already been registered (though I certainly recommend consulting a competent trademark attorney to conduct an exhaustive search, prior to filing a trademark registration).
- If you aren’t quite ready to file, due to financial reasons or otherwise, I recommend using the unregistered trademark and service mark symbols (™ or ℠) immediately — no registration necessary. Without federal registration, you will not be afforded the numerous legal advantages provided by federal trademark law; however, use of these symbols (™ or ℠) will at least put the public on notice that you claim trademark ownership over the preceding marks. This may help to dissuade competitors from using any marks that would infringe upon those you’ve designated as protected. Once you do apply and receive an approved federal trademark registration, you may replace these symbols with the registered trademark symbol (®).
Again, a full discussion on brand protection, specifically with regard to trademarks, would take pages upon pages of this blog — the information provided above is only enough to get you started. Initiate a dialogue with your business attorney and conduct your own research before moving forward with any new business. Taking the proper steps to protect your new business and/or brand BEFORE introducing it to the masses will save you time, money, and a headache later down the business road.
– Brittany Walker
To schedule a consultation to discuss your business needs, please contact Brittany Walker, PLLC.