You have been dreaming of starting your own business for as long as you can remember, and after years of effort toward building your startup, you finally have almost everything in place to launch — including a name.
Yet, before you can get your business off the ground, you need to take steps to protect your business name from cutthroat competitors.
Traditionally, a business did not need to go out of its way to claim certain branding elements before launch. As customers came to associate a name, logo, slogan and other brand components with a particular company, that company was assumed to have ownership over those assets.
Yet, because of the size and scope of modern markets, it is essential that you are proactive in protecting your company name and other brand elements as soon as you can. Here’s what you need to do now to ensure your perfect business name stays yours.
File Your Business Name With Your State Agency
Your state keeps track of all the organizations that operate within its borders for tax and regulatory reasons. Thus, to launch your business, you will need to file with the agency that handles business filings in your state.
As it so happens, filing with this state agency is perhaps the best way to protect your business name in your local market. No state allows two business entities to operate under the same name, and many states prohibit names that are deceptively similar.
Forming a formal business organization by filing for an LLC or corporation status is an effective way to prevent other local companies from stealing your perfect name.
Of course, not every business owner is ready to file as soon as they come up with their business name. You might find out if your state business filing agency allows you to reserve a business name while you get organized to formally file.
Another option is to register your business name as a DBA, which stands for “doing business as.” DBAs, which can also be called trade names or fictitious business names, allow sole proprietors to build a business reputation separate from their personal identities.
You can register your DBA with the same agency that handles corporations and LLCs.
Apply for a Trademark From the Federal Government
Many new business owners are often confused about copyright vs. trademark, but the short explanation is that when it comes to your business name and logo, you only need to be concerned about trademarks.
Organizations acquire trademarks by utilizing them in their business operations — as long as their trademarked assets adhere to two critical criteria: They are distinctive and they cannot be confused with other existing trademarks.
While you might technically have a trademark on your business name automatically, you might want to strengthen your ownership of your trademark by registering it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
This agency, operating under the Department of Commerce, maintains a national database of official trademark records. Then, if another business seeks to trademark a similar or identical name, you have irrefutable proof that you thought up the trademark first.
It is worth noting that not every possible name or phrase can be trademarked. The USPTO will reject most generic names as well as many descriptive names. If your perfect name is rejected for a trademark on this basis, you may need to brainstorm with a bit more creativity to protect your brand.
Register for a Domain Under Your Business Name
It is all but impossible to find business success in the Digital Age without giving your organization an online location.
Your company website must reside on a domain that is obviously associated with your brand name, which makes it much easier for consumers to find and interact with your business.
Registering for a domain is a critical step in setting up your business, and when other companies interested in your brand name find that the domain is already taken, they will cease trying to compete with you for that name.
However, obtaining the domain you want might be easier said than done. You might consider researching available domains as you are brainstorming your business name, to ensure that you do not become attached to a name that requires a domain with a hefty price tag.
However, if your name is indeed perfect, you might be willing to pay any amount to own the domain.
With so many millions of small businesses operating in the U.S., it is more important than ever that you protect your perfect name as soon as you find it.