Naming a new business is one of the first things many business owners do. While it may seem like a simple (or even fun) exercise, choosing the wrong name could trigger litigation if your choice infringes upon another business’s trademark.
To avoid this pitfall, consider the following tips:
Do your research
One of the easiest ways to avoid a trademark dispute is to do your due diligence and research names that are already in use. As this article notes, there are some essential places to check to ensure you do not infringe upon another company’s trademark.
- The internet. Search for your potential name and see if another company in a similar industry is using the same, or nearly the same, name.
- The fictitious name database for Minnesota and your county.
- Databases for corporations, limited partnerships or LLCs if this is the type of business you plan to start.
- Minnesota and United States Patent and Trademark Office databases.
Failure to do adequate research can lead to liability for willful infringement. It can also result in costly consequences, like having to repackage products or starting over with marketing efforts. Save the results of your research.
If you find a business using the same or similar business name, and you are committed to using the name, you can discuss with an attorney whether the other business may have standing to take legal action against you. If not, then you may decide to accept the risk and proceed with your chosen name.
If you discover that your proposed name would spark lawsuits, confusion and other unfortunate consequences, consider alternative names. You might add a more descriptive word, rearrange the words or come up with a new name altogether. Even if it’s not quite what you wanted, choosing a name that will not trigger legal disputes is almost always the best decision.
Protect the name
Once you have your business name, protect it. This can involve setting up a website, clearly identifying your brand and product, and registering your business name. This makes it easier for others to find your company when they do their own research and avoid using your business name as their own.
Should you discover someone else using your business name in the future, you can send a “cease and desist” letter, or take other steps to enforce your registered mark.