As a business owner, you are probably aware that it is important to promote your business name and constantly improve its reputation by investing in branding and advertising. However, it is also crucial to protect your business name so that others can’t use it for their own benefit. When I speak to business owners here in my hometown of New York City, most are under the false impression that their business name is fully protected once they have incorporated their business name or registered it as an LLC. When you apply to be a corporation or an LLC, the secretary of state’s office is going to check to make sure that your proposed business name isn’t already in use by another company in your state.
If or when your LLC or corporation (Inc. or Corp.) application is approved, your company name is protected in the state to the extent that no other business will be able to form an LLC or corporation with the same name in that state. But keep in mind that registering your business name as an LLC or corporation will not stop a business that operates as a sole proprietorship or partnership from using your name in the state. It just won’t be able to register as an LLC or corporation with that name. And remember that registering your company as an LLC in New York will not prevent anyone from registering that name as an LLC in another state.
HOW DOES A TRADEMARK DIFFER FROM REGISTERING YOUR BUSINESS WITH THE STATE?
Registering your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will provide you the exclusive right to use your business name nationwide in connection with the goods and/or services you’ve identified in your USPTO registration. A federal trademark also allows you to enforce your trademark by filing a lawsuit in federal court. These are strong protections. However, it will be up to you, the owner of the mark, to monitor unauthorized uses of your trade name and take steps to stop them.
Getting a trademark registered with the USPTO can take upwards of 6 to 12 months. The process is more expensive and involved than registering a business name with the state, but it provides you with exclusive rights in all 50 states, especially if you’re targeting clients outside of your state. And, unlike copyrights or patents, trademarks have an unlimited lifespan so long as you comply with the renewal requirements.