Q: I’m in the process of rebranding my business and am closing in on a final company name with my team. Our top choice for a name seems to be available for registration with the New Hampshire Secretary of State, but I’m not sure if we need to look elsewhere to confirm availability. Is there a way to determine whether another company has rights to use the name?
A: In rebranding your business, it is important to consider whether your new company name will infringe upon the trademark rights of a third party.
Trademarks and service marks (collectively referred to here as “trademarks” or “marks”) typically protect brand names, logos, and slogans used in connection with goods and services. Registering a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) provides the owner with an exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods or services identified in the registration.
Regardless of whether a corporate name is available for registration at the state level, a third party with superior federal trademark rights might challenge your use of the name after you have built up your new brand and could ultimately force you to change the name in the event of a conflict. Given the time, energy, and resources it takes to launch a rebrand, identifying conflicts with any existing trademark rights upfront can save you some major headaches down the road.
An experienced trademark attorney can help you conduct an initial “screening” search of federal and state registrations to identify problematic marks that are identical or highly similar to your desired company name. Depending on the results of the initial screening search, you may choose to do a full comprehensive search as another level of clearance before adopting the name. A comprehensive search is generally conducted through a commercial search firm and covers a wide range of databases, including state trade name and business name registrations, web resources, and domain name records.
A well-conducted trademark search provides you with invaluable insight for assessing the level of risk associated with your desired company name and can help shape your rebranding efforts going forward. In the event of a conflict, it is much easier (and also less costly) to alter your rebranding strategy before a company name is adopted and you have built up the new brand with your customer base.
Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton. Questions and ideas for future columns should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.