You put a lot of work into your business. You’ve undoubtedly spent countless nights and weekends trying to create a minimum viable product so that you can get to market. You toiled long and hard to come up with the perfect name for the product and your company. After all, these things will be your brand to the consuming public. But for all the thought that you put into naming, far too many companies fail to give thought to those who are already out in the marketplace.
Before you go to all the trouble of creating promotional material for your website, it’s a good idea to do some research to determine if anyone else is using the same name. A Google search in conjunction with a search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office will let you know if there’s already someone using the name that you previously thought unique. While it can be painful to have to part with the name that you had committed to in your mind, but it’s a far easier thing to move on from it early in your business’ life, rather than have to rebrand down the line to avoid infringement.
Once you do find a name that you like and can use for your business, it’s time to go about protecting it so that you can likewise try to avoid any misappropriation. It is often worth the time and investment to trademark your branding in order to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that mark is registered and that you can pursue formal action in the case of infringement. Having your trademarked registered also entitles you to use the ® next to your mark, which lets everyone know that you own the rights to that mark. Ownership of a trademark also opens the door for future opportunities for licensing the mark.
You want to make sure that you own all the intellectual property that your company generates and that none of your ideas are walking out the door, intentionally or otherwise. Having processes in place to make sure that all of your innovation is being captured in some form allows you to identify it and protect it as necessary. That isn’t just things that could be trademarked or patented or copyrighted; the know-how and contacts that you rely on in your work constitute trade secrets, and are an equally invaluable part of your IP portfolio. Your employment agreements and company policies should address not only ownership of work created by those working for you or working under contract, but should outline employees and contractors’ responsibility when it comes to non-disclosure of sensitive information once they have left the company.
Another frequent misstep that entrepreneurs often make is mistaking domain name for trademark. While it’s fairly simple to go on the internet and purchase a domain name for a small fee, simply owning that domain doesn’t necessarily give you the right to operate your business from that site if the name is too close to that of another business. You can’t simply look to change the top level domain (.com, .net, .org) to avoid trouble; you need to have a substantively distinctive name to avoid potential legal trouble. Looking at internet domains should be hand and hand with finding a non-trademarked name for your business to make sure that you have a strong, clear brand.