Savvy business owners understand that reputation is the most important factor in the success or failure of your business. Because every great business has competitors in its local marketplace, it’s essential that you take steps to protect your name and your brand—and the reputation that they represent.
“Doing Business As” (DBA) Registration
When you form a corporate entity such as an LLC or a corporation, the secretary of state’s office will check to make sure that your proposed business name isn’t already in use by another company in your state. For example, if “Champion Dental Group” is operating in your state, then the name “Champion Dentistry” may be rejected by the secretary of state for being deceptively similar to an existing company.
However, this does not prevent an individual from operating their company using your same name—as long as they don’t attempt to incorporate under that name.
You can help prevent a local competitor from using your name by registering your business name as a “DBA”. When you complete DBA registration with the county and the state, you put all local competitors on notice that they cannot use your name without your permission.
Filing for a DBA is a step in the right direction towards protecting the reputation of your business. However, if you have a business with a client base that extends outside of state lines, your DBA is of no effect. Further, a DBA cannot protect any other elements of your brand, such as your logo, or any slogans that might accompany your business name. If you have a business that reaches beyond your home state, or if your brand is more than just a name: trademark registration may be right for you.
State Trademark Registration and Federal Trademark Registration
The U.S. has a two-tiered system of trademark protection: federal and state. A federal registration gives the registrant rights throughout the entire United States and its territories and possessions; a state registration gives the registrant trademark rights only within the territory of the state.
State trademark protection requires filling out a state-promulgated application, submitting evidence of your use of the brand in commerce, and paying state-required filing fees that range from $50-$75 for each class of the goods and/or services that you want to be protected. Generally, state trademark protection is less expensive and less time-consuming than federal trademark protection. Also, it creates a clear record of the first date on which you began using your mark in commerce. However, its protection only extends throughout your home state.
Federal trademark protection also requires filling out an application created by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), submitting evidence of your use of the brand in commerce (or your intent to use the brand in commerce), and paying federal filing fees for each class of good or services that you want to be protected. However, the application is much more complex, the filing fees are much higher ($225- $275 per class), and the USPTO requires that an examining attorney in their office review, potentially revise, and ultimately approve your application.
Because of the complexity of the federal trademarking process, it can take anywhere from 6 months to a year or more to complete. The USPTO “strongly encourage[s] you to hire a U.S.-licensed attorney who specializes in trademark law to guide you through the registration process.”
The additional effort is rewarded, as federal trademark protection offers greater benefits and far more protection than state trademark registration. For example:
- It covers the entire country (and allows you to obtain foreign trademark protection in some geographic regions that are outside of the United States).
- It lists your name, logo and slogan in an online database, so that competitors worldwide are aware of your protected brand.
- It allows you to notify competitors of your trademark protection by using the ® symbol in your marketing materials.
- It allows you to sue any competitors that steal your branding in a federal court.
To make sure you are completely covered, the best choice is to obtain both state and federal trademark registration. TLC can help you through the process of protecting your business reputation though either or both of these methods.