If you’re in the process of naming your company or a new product or service, you’re going to invest a lot in that name. You’ll spend tangible dollars on brochures, signs, marketing collateral and stationery; there are also intangible costs like name recognition, brand equity & goodwill.
Before you finalize your name, make sure you can protect it. Even if you’re a small business, you don’t want to risk having to change your name if you have a name conflict and you’ve infringed on someone’s trademark. Copycats can also erode your brand and investment.
1. Determine the scope of your search. Looking ahead a few years, will you be competing on a local basis? Statewide? Regional? National? International? The more markets you enter, the more protection research you should complete.
2. Check URL availability. Using your web brower, type in the URL for your desired name and any variations you can think of. Also check each major ending (.com, .net, .org, biz). It’s a speedy way to find other companies with exact or similar names. List all of the companies you find and make a note of their industry and location – if they’re in a similar business, you have a conflict. Plus you’ll discover whether there’s a reasonable URL available.
3. Use the major search engines to find other companies with similar names. Again, you can find potential conflicts very quickly. Review the companies you find and note their locations and industries – once again, if they have your name and are in a similar business, you have a conflict.
4. Check your state’s Corporation Commission or Secretary of State for name availability. Many states won’t allow similar names for companies in similar industries. If you don’t plan to compete outside of your state and your state grants your name, you’re likely safe and can end your conflict search here.
5. Check the U.S. Patent and Trade Office website. You can search for similar trademarks and/or service marks. If you find a mark for your name and it’s in a similar industry, move to another name.
6. Have your attorney run a complete name search. It will outline every company using your selected name with both common law and federally-registered protection.
7. If you’re going international, check those markets as well. Did you know that Budweiser can’t use its name in parts of Europe because of Budweis beer? Check your name now before you invest in it domestically. Also, make sure your name doesn’t translate into something negative or offensive in other languages. That’s a quick way to build negative brand equity.
While this step can be time consuming and cost upwards of thousands of dollars (for legal work), it’s better to be safe than sorry with something this important.
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