An article in the Triangle Business Journal (see website below) illustrates a prime example of the importance of seeking federal trademark protection for your trade name (i.e., the name under which you operate your business), and of doing a proper search prior to adopting a trade name, logo, slogan, or other moniker. According to the article, a restaurant chain is being forced to change its name because that name is protected under federal trademark law as a result of registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
This may have been prevented if a trademark search was done prior to choosing a name. By searching through the USPTO database, you can determine if a particular trade name has been given federal protection through registration. It is always a good idea to do this before choosing your business’s name. And while doing this search is not a guarantee that your name is available for use (there may still be state or common law trademark protection even without federal registration), failure to do so, as shown in this article, can have rather inconvenient consequences, including name change and potential for lawsuit.
Performing a full trademark search is much more complicated than simply typing in a few letters into a search bar and hitting enter. It involves a complex and detailed search and analysis through a wide array of sources. And if you are looking for broader regional coverage or even national coverage, a full trademark search is vital for brand protection. But, even if you are limiting the reach of your business to your home state, a USPTO search (and a search of your state’s trademarks) is the minimum you should do prior to trade name selection. This is separate and apart from any search you do with your state’s Secretary of State regarding availability of corporate or LLC name; just because a name may be available for use as a corporate or LLC name, doesn’t mean you won’t find a cease and desist letter in your mailbox one day.