Two things that you to be aware of as a business owner are business names and trademarks. You will have to register your business name with the Secretary of State. If there are no other businesses using that name in the state, then no other business in that state can take and use your business name, and your business is the one that will be identified under that name. A trademark is not a legal name but rather a type of property. It has value, and is a way for you to brand your goods or services.
Differences Between Protecting a Business Name and a Trademark
One difference between a business name and a trademark is time and complexity. A business name is a very simple matter. After all, it’s just that: a name, so that others can identify you and your business. A trademark, since it is a type of property and has value, will be a more complex process. The application process, whereby your trademark would be registered by the federal government, can take up to six months, or even longer. Part of why it takes so long is that there is so much more to look into with a trademark, enforced by both state and federal governments.
Another important difference is the scope of the protection. The protection of a business name is just in the state where it is registered. And different states have different rules about just how unique a business name has to be from any others that are registered in the state. In some, a subtle difference is enough, while in others there are much tougher guidelines to keep names from being too similar. Either way, though, a business name in one state does not have to differ from names that are registered in other states. By registering with the Secretary of State, no other business in the state can use that name, but other states are completely open. And it’s even possible for corporations to use a name that’s already claimed in a particular state so long as they file a DBA, assumed business name, or trade name (which one will depend on the state, of course).
With a trademark, however, you have exclusive property rights. If you own a trademark, then you can prevent anyone else from using it—anywhere—and trademarks can be used to cover not only business names but also logos, phrases, symbols, designs, images, or any combination thereof. What you trademark, called the mark, must be different from any other mark owned by another. Depending on the mark, it might be enough to change design elements such as fonts, colors, and images to keep the marks from being deceptively similar—as long as a mark does not decrease the value of an existing mark or cause confusion among consumers about the identity of the different marks.
You must apply with the US Patent and Trademark Office, which initiates an examination period lasting up to and beyond six months. After the examination period, where a number of procedural and substantive questions are studied and taken care of, your trademark then enters the next stage: a 30-day waiting period. During this period, other parties can challenge the proposed trademark by initiating an Opposition Proceeding. If you get through the waiting period and no challenges have been substantiated, then, finally, the trademark is registered.
Federal Tax ID
Another important step for your business is getting a Federal Tax ID number, or an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Whether you are a sole proprietor or a corporation, you need an EIN to legally conduct business. The IRS uses the EIN as a way to identify a business entity. Fortunately, the number is easy to get. There are multiple ways you can get an EIN from the IRS:
- Fill out Form SS-4 and return it by mail or fax to the IRS (the form is available at www.irs.gov)
- Fill out an online application, where you answer a series of questions about your business. Be aware, though, that you must complete the entire application in one session, so you have to have all your information ready when you fill it out.
- An authorized third party may apply for the EIN. The third party must be authorized by, depending on the business entity, the sole proprietor, the general partnership, or the corporation itself (not just a shareholder).