Do I need a Trademark if My Company Name was Approved when Incorporating?

Trade Names

Incorporating a company may show when you first started using a trade name, but does not grant you any particular trademark rights. There is a distinction between a trademark and a trade name. A trade name can act as a trademark, but does not always.

While a trademark (or service mark) serves to identify and distinguish the source and origin of goods and services, a trade name is any word, name, symbol, or other designation, or any combination thereof, which serves to identify a particular business, vocation, or enterprise and which distinguishes such business, vocation, or enterprise from the business, vocation, or enterprise of another.

In order for a trade name to function as a trademark it must attach to goods or services in such a way that purchasers and prospective customers would recognize the business identified by the trade name as the source and origin of such goods or services. This does not always happen. For example, you may incorporate as Independent Media, Ltd., but promote your business under the servicemark Crazy Graphics. In such a case the name Independent Media, Ltd. does not function as a trademark, but merely as a trade name.

The Secretary of State’s Office, which is typically charged with forming corporations and other business entities in a particular state, only reviews whether a proposed corporate name is identical to another registered name. Otherwise, the Office does not review whether a particular corporate name infringes on a third parties’ trademark rights, and thus, the fact that you registered the name does not mean that you are free to use it as a trademark. You must still conduct a search to determine if there are any other third parties who are using the same name (or a very similar name) as a trademark on or in connection with any goods and services that might be related to the goods and service in connection with which you intend to use the name as a trademark.

Once you have settled on a brand for your company’s goods or services it is highly recommended that you obtain a federal trademark. Obtaining a federal trademark will grant you presumptive nationwide rights to use the mark. Your brand will be secure and yours to use.