In the business world, your name is everything. Ask Polaroid, Xerox, Kleenex, or Google, — brands whose names have become synonymous with an entire product; they’ll tell you exactly how important a business’s name can be to their bottom line.
But you know this already, which is why you put so much time and care into crafting your small business’s name. Now all you have to do is protect it. So what should you do if another business starts using your name?
Hopefully, you took our advice on registering the name of your business. There are often legal requirements that LLCs, corporations, and limited partnerships register their business names with a state or federal business authority, but there are good reasons to register your business name even if it’s not legally required. After all, you probably checked state incorporation records and did a domain name search before settling on your business name; by registering, you can put other businesses on notice that you’re already using the name.
You’ll also want to trademark your business name. Trademarks protect your business’s identity, preventing others from using similar words, names, or symbols to sell similar goods or services. Even though you can create trademark protection by use alone, by registering your business name as a trademark, you’ve formed the first line of defense to anyone else using the same name.
Once registered or in use, your focus shifts to protecting your trademark from infringement. If you discover another business using your name, the most common first step is to send a cease and desist letter to the other business. Keep in mind that there are better and worse ways to write a cease and desist letter, and how you craft the letter will have a large impact on whether the other business complies.
If that fails, you may need to resort to litigation to enforce your trademark rights. A trademark lawsuit may require you to prove that you’ve registered the trademark, that someone is infringing on the trademark by using yours or a similar mark to sell similar goods or services, and that the infringer’s use is confusing customers or otherwise diluting the power of your trademark.
An experienced intellectual property attorney will be able to assess your trademark case if another business starts using your name.
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