Don’t have a name for your new company or new product? Do you have to or want to change the name of your existing company? Read on for some helpful advice.
If you find after reading this post that your current company name or other trademark is weak under trademark law, don’t fret— bolster your trademark strength by adding a strong slogan or logo. After all, who can hear GE® without thinking “We bring good things to life.”
It’s Not So Easy Thinking Them Up…
Most entrepreneurs and small business owners agonize over conveying the perfect image with their company and/or product names. For many, no name ever seems good enough. Then there are those who have had the name of their dream company in mind since they were twelve (and the logo since age fourteen). Those same people most likely chose the names of their children well before pregnancy.
My very well-organized and plan obsessive friend and her Type-A soul mate had the names of their children picked out well before marriage and then number three stumped them. Even well-organized, serial entrepreneurs may be at a loss to come up with a name if they are on company number three or higher. Companies with multiple products may face the same issues. For those of you with some extra start up dollars, it may be helpful to consult a brand consulting firm in this area (in addition, of course, to your trademark attorney).
If you use your company name in advertising and/or on products, it is one of the most valuable trademarks assets your company will own as it distinguishes you from your competitors. And, a strong trademark will help reduce the chance that your company is confused with a competitor.
The Importance of a Name
Even if you are able to come up with the perfect name for your company or product, you need to determine whether trademark law will protect the mark for your company’s exclusive use. Trademark law essentially attempts to prevent customers from being confused regarding the source of goods and/or services. So while it is okay (not great, but okay) for your child to be the fifth Emily in the class, you don’t want the name your company or product to be the same as another similar company or product.
Also, your company’s name and/or product name, if used in the manner of a trademark, can as long as your company continues to use it. This contrasts with other intellectual property rights — patents last for 20 years and copyrights for 90 years more or less. Yes, choosing a name for your company and/or product to last FOREVER is important as well as daunting.
Trademark Law Provides Guidance!
In many cultures, family names provide parameters and help to narrow the choices of children’s names for anxious parents; hence all of the Jrs., IIIs, and IVs. For a company name and/or product name, trademark law provides similar parameters and will pay big dividends should you encounter any issues down the road with customers confusing your company with another company.
Trademark law protects strong marks. Strength is measured by the mark’s relationship to the goods and/or services and the frequency of use by competitors.
Relationship Equals Strength
The strongest mark has no relationship to the goods or services and the weakest mark describes the goods and/or services. Therefore, Google® is a strong mark for search engine services and The Shoe Store is a weak mark for a shoe store. Because Google® is not even a word found in the dictionary, it cannot and does not have any relationship to the services the company provides.
Google®, Kodak®, and Xerox® are all strong marks because they are fabricated words. Other strong marks include words found in the dictionary but that also have no relationship to the goods or services on which the mark is used — for example, Apple® for computers.
For the Subtle Marketers
I know there are many business owners who are too conservative to fabricate words (and think Gwyneth Paltrow is crazy for naming her child Apple). Or, perhaps, your industry is conservative and you don’t want to stand out in the stately neighborhood like the woman down the street with the large Homer Simpson Santa in her front yard.
However, classic and “classy” companies should consider a real word entirely unrelated to the services or goods — like Chestnut for insurance services.* Use of a strong mark such as these will pay dividends in your ability to protect your trademark from use by others. In order to inform your clients what services and/or goods you provide, you can combine a strong mark with a descriptive one—for example, Chestnut Insurance Services.
Popular names for businesses in conservative industries include surnames and names referring to places, streets, and other geography. Of course, some industries are regulated, like the legal industry, and must use surnames. If your company has no such regulations, avoid surnames and geographical names as they come with a number of traps. Always consult your industry’s regulations to determine if one applies to the name of your business and/or product.
The More Frequent the Use, the Weaker the Trademark
For maximum trademark protection, your company should be the only one using your trademark. By choosing a unique name, your company is in a great position to stand out from your competitors and prove, if necessary, that someone using a mark similar to yours is, in fact, attempting to profit off the goodwill established by your company. If your name is used by many competitors as a trademark, it is more likely your customers will confuse your company with a competitor and less likely you will be able to stop others from using a similar mark. Therefore, consult a trademark attorney and have him or her conduct a search of the mark to determine if your company’s name is clear for use with the services you provide or goods you sell.
Be proud of your company and stand out from the rest! Customers and clients will admire your bravado. Also, think of the success of companies whose brands are distinctive-Google®,Kodak®, and Xerox®.
Once your company name is chosen, have your trademark attorney file a trademark application. Go forth and choose strong marks for new companies and products or add a strong mark or two to your company’s existing trademark portfolio.
Strain Law and Kate Dodson Strain offer these articles for general informational purposes only. These articles do not constitute legal advice. Any communication through this blog will not be considered as privileged or confidential. Please contact Kate directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about getting formal legal advice.
*The author’s use of these names is merely for illustration purposes only and the mentioning of these marks does not represent her professional advice as to the availability of the marks for use with the named services.