I’ve been hearing A LOT of talk about trademarks lately. I’ve had so many conversations with creatives who want their business name protected by federal trademark laws. After we talk, they usually walk away with a list of legal priorities that don’t include trademarks.
Honestly, a lot of small business owners think about trademark protections for their business name way too early. Especially creatives.
Yep. If you’re a new business owner, you probably don’t need to worry about trademark protections for your business name. In fact, all of the time you’re spending being concerned about trademarks is probably hurting your business.
I can feel you backing away. Hear me out. You owe it to your business to keep reading.
Look, I get it. You’re passionate about something. You’ve created a business around that passion. One of the first steps is choosing a business name. And you’re creative, so you want to showcase that creativity by coming up with the perfect name for your business.
You open a notebook or a window on your computer, and you start brain-dumping ideas. Some you love, some you hate. Most of the ones you love are already taken as a website domain. Back to the drawing board you go. You whittle things down to a large handful. You start asking around—family, friends, Facebook groups. The more people you ask, the more feedback you get, and the more difficult the decision becomes.
Weeks go by, and you finally settle in one. It’s perfect. It fits. You’re kind of in love with it. It RESONATES. It’s more than just a business name—it says something about you, your skills, and your values on a deep level.
And then someone mentions trademarks.
Aw, man! You just found THE perfect business name for your business! You’ve got to protect it. Right?! I mean, how badly would that suck if someone else registered a trademark for it and then told you that you couldn’t use it.
See? I get it. I’ve been there. (Seriously, you can ready my story about how I landed on the name “Indie Law” here).
But I gotta tell you something. It might be hard to swallow and accept, but it’s true. Your business name for this new company hasn’t become an asset yet.
Sure, YOU love your business name. And others might love it, too. Heck, if you named it right, your target market should think it’s great. BUT. You don’t gain customers just by having a perfect business name. A business name doesn’t solve a pain point. It doesn’t provide value to your target market. If someone is on the fence about buying from you, the fact that you have a great business name won’t help convince them to buy. People aren’t buying from you because your business name is awesome—they’re buying from you because you’re adding value and solving a problem.
This isn’t to say that a strong business name isn’t important. A business name should be relatively short, easy to pronounce, and catchy. It should speak to the tone and values of your brand. A business name can absolutely become an asset. But until you start to build an audience of customers and leads that identify with your brand, the business name isn’t an asset.
At Indie Law, we work with our clients and our followers to help them think like business owners. This can be a real struggle for creatives, and understandably so. Your business values creativity. And keeping those creative juices flowing is a part of your business.
It’s so easy to get distracted, whether you identify as a creative person or not. The marketing side is fun. The social media side is fun. The creative side of running a business is fun. And it’s easy to tell yourself that it’s important. But really, is it? Are you seeing a positive correlation between these efforts and sales? It FEELS like you’re working. But are you really working in a focused way? Or are you volunteering your time?
Don’t put the horse in front of the carrot. Don’t waste time and energy trying to protect a part of your business that isn’t really the valuable part of your business (yet). When you’re starting, the most important thing is to start generating sales. Playing “defense” with trademarks won’t get you sales.
As a new business owner, your greatest tool is your time. When you’re bootstrapping and you’re new to owning a business, your time is the one thing you have in abundance. But it’s still a finite resource. Use your time wisely. Focus on building the business—the part that actually provides a solution to your buyers’ pain points. Once you’ve got that down and your brand reputation is growing, then revisit trademarks.
Alright, Joey. I hear you. I’ve thought about it. I still want my business name to be a registered trademark.
Alright! If at this point you’re still wanting a federal trademark, then I won’t waste any more time trying to convince you otherwise. Now the question is: how should you apply for the trademark?
Don’t do this by yourself. Talk to an attorney.
Yes, technically you don’t need an attorney to file a trademark application. But just because you can do this by yourself doesn’t mean you should. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (AKA the USPTO) handles trademark applications, and their website states that MOST trademark applicants are represented by an attorney. And there’s a reason for this.
Having an attorney apply for a trademark on your behalf increases your chances of success by 50%. Seriously, an independent study concluded this.
And this makes sense. Here are some main reasons why having an attorney help you is worth it:
- The success of a trademark application depends largely on running a strong comprehensive search to make sure there are no similar trademarks that would result in rejection.
- Your business name might be too weak (“generic” or “descriptive”) to get full trademark protections, and an attorney can advise you on that.
- The application process is difficult if you’re not familiar with it.
- Before your application will be accepted, you’ll have to respond to various communications from the reviewing attorneys at the USPTO. You can waste a lot of time, energy, and money trying to respond to these communications. And if you miss a response deadline, your application will be abandoned.
- Low-cost services like LegalZoom don’t really provide any assistance with the points mentioned above. Their service allows you to more easily apply for a trademark, but any actual legal consultation will cost extra. And then it will cost even more to have an attorney help you clean things up.
Let’s bring things full circle here. Like I said earlier, your time is a precious resource for your business right now. It’s like oxygen—it’s what’s keeping your business alive. If you want to move forward with a trademark, think about your time. It’s not a matter of how competent you are. If you take the time required to become well-versed in trademark law, you might get to a point where you feel confident filing a trademark application on your own. And who knows, you might be one of the lucky ones who gets a trademark application accepted without putting much time or effort into the process. Hey, may the odds be ever in your favor.
But if you’re at a stage where a federally registered trademark is right for your busi
ness—if you’ve developed a brand awareness and your business name is now an asset—you don’t want to leave this up to chance.
We can help.
If you’re on the fence about a federal trademark, schedule a 30-45 minute legal consultation call with our office, and we’ll point you in the right direction.