Protecting Your Company Name
When you build your business, you spend a lot of time and resources to make it a reality. Imagine that someone takes what you've built after many years.
It's like paying a good amount of money to rebuild a classic car. Then, when it's finally the perfect condition, you wake up the following day and see someone take it from your garage.
Taking your company name might not be intentional. Maybe someone started a business with a similar variation, and it causes brand confusion. Or someone, who didn't know about your name, in the next town over invests a few years building it until the news eventually reaches you (creating a mess for everyone).
When you protect your business name, you help prevent name confusion, intentional profiting from your brand, and other unforeseen obstacles.
But it's not so easy to protect. Whether it is a social media account name or another business with a one-letter difference in the name, you can face problems from every corner.
Thankfully, there are some steps we can take to prevent common issues.
What does it mean to protect your name?
It's not just legal. You want people to recognize your name and attribute it to your services or products.
- Legally Protected
You need legal protection to ensure no one else can use your name in the same industry or cause brand confusion.
Your name needs to be attributed to you when someone sees it. Can they connect it to the business?
Will customers and prospects remember you?
We can achieve this through legal protection, brand design, and effective marketing.
Decide for the Long-run First
Protecting your name takes time and money. Every year your business uses it is another year of established reputations and relationships in the community. If you plan on changing any names, now is the time to think about it.
The more time and money you spend on a name, the harder it is to pivot. You have to make legal adjustments and educate your customers and community about it.
Ensure that your current name is worth protecting for many years to come. Once you know if your name is something you want to invest in and protect, it's time to start cementing it.
Establish the Right Company Entity
If you are self-employed or don't have an entity for your name, it's time to think of one. Entities help with liability and add more layers to your business name claims.
Think of what you do and what entity works best. It may be a sole proprietorship, LLC, a partnership, or other entity. Each one varies and has different tax and liability laws.
Registering an entity name that matches your brand name makes it easier to promote one name only and strengthens your place in the market.
Is your entity name different? Establish a Doing-Business-As name with your registered business. Make it the brand or product name if possible. The fewer names to deal with, the easier it is to protect.
Get Your Perfect Domain
Web addresses are critical in the digital age. If you don't have an easy-to-remember name, it can be impossible for customers to find you. As a result, businesses should consider name decisions on domain availability.
See if you can find a dot Com or industry-relevant extension for your brand name. If you can't, consider another name if you haven't launched it yet. If you have no other choice, think of a creative way to make a memorable website.
For example, the swipe-file app, Pocket, which helps internet users save links to articles and web pages, used GetPocket.com. Now they own Pocket.com, but before, this was a great way to keep it memorable until they had the resources to buy the domain they wanted from the owner.
Once you have your domain, buy other popular extensions. For example, dot Net, Org, and other extensions might be a good option for you. In addition, your industry may have relevant extensions like dot Art, TV, Charity, Ai, and more.
Once you've picked popular extensions, buy similar addresses. You want to help people find you and avoid future confusion. For example, if your website is OrlandoCars then maybe OrlandCars (a typo) or OrlandoAuto could be suitable options.
Brand Your Company
Why do we really want to protect our name? We want customers to identify who we are. We don't want them to confuse us with someone else. Business names represent the offer and quality you promise. Each year you operate under the name is another investment.
None of it matters if your customers and community don't identify your protected name with your business. You need great branding. Develop your font, logo, colors, and other visual branding materials. Create a slogan. Ensure it is consistent everywhere.
Your customer service and the experience when people walk into the store or visit the website is part of the branding. What are employees saying when they greet a customer? What is the experience like when someone navigates your site? What mood do the words on the page evoke?
Your Instagram page and other social accounts should have a brand style, from the type of edited pictures you post to how you communicate. The more recognizable you are, the more people will remember your name.
Trademark Your Name
Your best legal protection for your name will be a trademark. You may have common-law protection for operating in your town, but if you do, it's incredibly vulnerable, and someone can use your name everywhere else in the world.
The same goes with different types of trademarks, like getting one for your state only. Try to get one for the entire country and a global one also. Why should it matter if you operate in one state and town?
A small restaurant in 1957 called Burger King in Illinois had a state trademark. When the other big Burger King chain started in Florida, they claimed the country and world. Today, the chain cannot open a store within 20 miles of Mattoon, IL, where the original name stands. But that leaves a disadvantage for the original store.
Imagine if you were that original restaurant. You may be happy in that town. But you can't grow beyond it, and you'll always compete for that name to be recognizable for your own brand.
Also, the internet has changed many things. When you have a website, you are an international business in many ways. Get full protection to continue to grow your company with your name.
When you've developed a logo, ensure you protect it too. It's another way to distinguish your name in the market.
Create Social Accounts
As mentioned before, many company names today are decided by domain availability. The second step for these same entrepreneurs is seeing if they can get the proper account name on social media.
Website names and social media handles are the backbones of businesses today. Ensure you can get the appropriate, recognizable name.
You can be creative for social media. Adding things like "Hello" or "Go" can help get you an original version of your name. For example, OrlandoCars could have a handle called GoOrlandoCars. If you can get the exact name, it's better. Just make sure you match the name across all or most social media platforms.
Which social media accounts should you get? Only focus on a few where your customers are. If you think a new platform or a developing platform might be a good resource in the future, but you don't want to invest in it yet, open an account so you can claim the name.
Consult with a Lawyer
Following the proper steps and creating a foundation can make a big difference in protecting your company name. But it's an ongoing process. Each day, your name could be in danger. That's why it's essential to find the right lawyer to help you through the process.
There are many intellectual property lawyers, online and in your community, that can help you register the names and paperwork and create a bedrock for the company's future. There are also services that help monitor possible threats.
For example, just because your name is trademarked doesn't mean a business is automatically barred from using your name. Someone has to enforce it, and it starts with you or your lawyer identifying the problem and reporting it. It's hard to do it independently, and a lawyer can help with that.
If you don't protect your trademark, it creates a precedent, and you could lose protection. It's harder to make a claim on a name another business has been using for five years than one they implemented this year.
Businesses can also lose out to generalization (think of past threats to Popsicle, Taser, and Xerox). You might lose protection when your name becomes a household name, or many companies have copied it. This is how Apple lost rights to “App Store.”
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Today, you can begin to protect your business name by following these steps.
*This article is for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice, and you should consult a lawyer when protecting your company name.