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Protect Your Business Name; or Risk Losing it!

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Protect Your Business Name; or Risk Losing it!

By JamieD
Published: August 3, 2009 Updated: September 2, 2015

Choosing and maintaining a good business name can have a significant effect on the success of your business. Coming up with a unique name is only half the battle. Who wants to spend all their creative energy on a name just to have it taken away? Unfortunately, if you don't take appropriate measure to protect your business name that's exactly what can happen. We previously blogged about Changing a Business Name, but it's important to know what measures you can take to ensure that all name changes are voluntary.

Register as Required– But Don't Stop There
Establishing and protecting a business name comes in two parts. The first is through mandatory government regulations; these are the minimum requirements that allow you to operate under a chosen name. Double check that you're in compliance with government laws by reviewing the Business Name Registration page. In actuality, these regulations, which generally involve registration with your Secretary of State's office, are operational and give little overall protection to keeping your name. The date of "first use", rather than the date of registration, holds superiority when it comes to awarding exclusive rights to the use of a name. Therefore, simply registering is not enough. The second part however, and our purpose for writing, covers optional registrations and actions that are intended to provide extra protection against potential infringement. 
All prudent business owners should follow these tips to ensure their business name is secured by all possible precautions.

Know Your Rights to Intellectual Property
A business name falls under the category of intellectual property and can therefore be protected by intellectual property laws - designed to protect and limit the use of the creator's idea. Although your business name is technically protected as a trade name upon initial registration with your state, registering for a trademark provides additional protection of your rights to a name - and can assist in the matter of proving those rights if an issue escalates to court. Learn how to register your name as a trademark, both federally and statewide, by checking out the Trade Names and Trademarks blog from the Business Law Advisor. For more information on intellectual property, see Business.gov's Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright Guide

Keep Accurate and Detailed Records
In many legal discrepancies, the outcome often comes down to proving your own case. No one method is foolproof and therefore it is important to maintain accurate and detailed records. These records should establish when you first started using your business name and could include anything from dated letters on company letterhead to dated advertising materials. These documents will provide a paper trail showing your use of a name and give more credibility to why you should be able to maintain rights to that name in the future. 

Be Alert to Potential Infringement Cases
The law was not written to accommodate 'sitting on your rights' and so it is very important to be on the lookout for potential infringement cases. Just because you have registered and safeguarded your name to the best of your ability, does not mean your job is done. It's still possible for others to ignore or be unaware of your rights to a name. Although some infringement cases are due to genuine oversight, others may deliberately chose names hoping to be confused with a more successful competitor. 
As a rule, your name is more likely to be stolen as you become more successful, however it can happen to anyone. Businesses can conduct internet searches for possible infringement cases or review local directories and phone books. Registering with online industry directories is another way to show your use of a name while hopefully deterring others from using it. For more information on the importance of protecting your intellectual property check out stopfakes.gov.
If you think you someone has illegally used your name, be sure to take action immediately by contacting your State Business Registration Entity and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  If legal action is taken too late, a judge may find that you've allowed another business to use your name for too long and opt not to stop the infringer's continued use.

Message Edited by JamieD on 09-01-2009 01:12 PM

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Good topic! It is raising a lot of questions. I am wondering if the registration or use of a business name creates any kind of valid claim to the corresponding web domain name. I have heard of some well known corporations that were able to take the URL corresponding to their name from someone who had registered the name. Any thoughts? Bill FletcherOrange County Website DesignMessage Edited by NicoleD on 09-30-2009 12:08 PM
If a company has merged with others to form a new company, what's the status of their original name if they're no longer trading with it ? Can another business set up with a similar name ?
Regarding potential infringement, I've noticed a lot of accounts being set up on Twitter using the trademarks and business names of famous people and even small businesses. You really should check Twitter to see if anyone is improperly using your trademarks there.

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