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Registered Business Name vs. Trademark

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A registered business name is a company’s legal name, which is registered at the state level. It is used to identify a business, particularly in official documentation. A trademark is a word, phrase, or image used in connection to goods and services, such as on packaging materials and advertisements. It is used to differentiate the source of one product from another.

While both registered business names and trademarks can be registered on the state level, they are two very different concepts that do very different work.

In this article, we'll cover:

What’s the Difference Between a Registered Business Name and a Trademark?

A main difference between registered business names and trademarks is how they work in commerce for consumers. For a trademark to gain rights, consumers must be able to connect the mark with the goods/services the business offers.Registered business names do not have to do this, legally. A registered business name might not be colloquially connected to the business at all, especially if there is a DBA (Doing Business As) name connected to it.

Here are some basics to keep in mind:

  • LLCs and corporations always need to register their business name prior to using it in commerce.
  • A trademark does not need to be registered in order to start earning rights in a business’ geographical jurisdiction. But if registration is sought, it can’t be granted until after the mark is used in commerce.

While many registered business names are used as or registered as a trademark, a registered business name is not inherently a trademark. To qualify, the name must be distinct and connected to goods/services for sale.

Registered business names have no protections outside of being unique in that state. This why many business owners choose to register their name as a trademark early on with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)—to have exclusive rights nationwide and bolster protections against would-be infringers.

What is a registered business name?

A registered business name is what it says on the tin: it’s the legal name your business is registered as. When a business is formed, there is paperwork involved (sole proprietorships and general partnerships are exceptions to this). This paperwork includes the name of your business. What you write there is the registered business name.

You can also register for a DBA name, sometimes called a trade name. This is like a secondary business name that usually requires local or state registration and lets you conduct business under a name other than the original legal business name. To have a new name as your registered business name, you would need to actually change your business’ legal name with the Secretary of State (or your state’s applicable business office).

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a form of intellectual property that helps consumers tell different brands, products, and services apart. The intent is to prevent customer confusion about who is providing certain goods/services.

Trademarks can be registered with the USPTO for federal protections, registered on the state level for state-wide protections, or used as a common law trademark, which is an unregistered mark with limited geographical protections.

Ready to get started? Our expert trademark team can help you file your application with our Trademark Service.

Registering a Business Name vs. Trademark

Other than the actual purpose being different, one major difference between a registered business name and a trademark is how to file for registration.

How to File for Business Name Registration

First thing to keep in mind: all registered business names must be registered. An unregistered business name, available for sole proprietorhsips and general partnerships, is the legal first and last name of the owner or owners. Most states require anything other than this to be registered on a state level.

Filing registration for a business name is often done just by submitting formation documents with the state. Your entity name must be unique in the state that you are filing in and not include any misleading information, such as calling yourself a credit union if you are not actually a credit union.

Other requirements can vary state by state. Check out the business name search in your state to get the ball rolling.

Ready to get started? Northwest can help form your business.

How to Choose a Registered Business Name

Choosing a business name involves looking at your state’s requirements, thinking about your business’ branding, and checking to see if the name is a registered trademark.

Wait, why does it matter if the business name I want is trademarked? Well, many businesses choose to register their name as a trademark with the USPTO. This provides nationwide protection, which limits your ability to use the same name if it leads to likelihood of confusion.

How to File for Trademark Registration

First thing to keep in mind: trademarks do not require registration. Common law trademark rights are free to maintain and kick in as soon as you use the trademark in commerce connected to a good or service. These rights have limitations, including a narrow geographical area of protection and not being able to pursue damages if money is lost due to infringement.

If you want to register your trademark, you have two options:

  • State trademark registration
  • Federal trademark registration

State registration can be appealing because it is generally much cheaper than federal registration and takes less time to receive. However, it limits your protection to just the state’s borders, meaning that a competing business on the other side of your state’s boundary could legally use the same trademark as you. This is why so many businesses registering a trademark choose to go the full distance and file for a federal trademark.

Filing for a federal trademark is done by submitting an application through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) in your MyUSPTO account. This costs $250 (TEAS Plus) or $350 (TEAS Standard) per trademark class.

Applying for a trademark involves avoiding likelihood of confusion, selecting your trademark classes and filing basis, and choosing your application type. Because it can be a long process with a lot of technicalities, many businesses choose to employ trademark lawyers to help with conducting a trademark clearance search and filing with the USPTO.

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