Wowza! The media is abuzz with major trademark infringement suits pending over famous brands:
- Who owns the rights to the word Zero? Is it Coke?
- Who will prevail over the name Hana? Is it Hana Financial or Hana Bank?
- And, did Wolfgang Puck steal the trademark of The Kitchen from Kimbal Musk?
These cases are complex…and expensive! If you’re a small business owner trying to stay out of legal hot water, here’s key naming advice:
- Look Beyond the Domain – Many entrepreneurs erroneously assume that just because the domain is available, that the name is free and clear. WRONG! Trademark law and domain names are 2 different spheres with 2 different rules.
- Try Non-Dictionary Words – Kleenex, Vonage, and Verizon are all made up words (neologisms) that are considered “whimsical” by the US Patent & Trademark Office meaning they more easily stand up to inspection and protection.
- Check out the Patent & Trademark Office – It’s worth investigating www.uspto.gov to see if the name you want is already registered. NOTE: this database is not in real time and is not a substitute for a lengthy state search, but it at least lets you know if your name is already in use.
- Avoid Using Your Own Name – Whenever I see Jane Doe & Associates, I assume there aren’t any associates! Further, using your own name limits your ability to sell your business and robs you of your own ability to use your name for a later business. Vidal Sassoon, Wally Amos, and Joseph Abboud have all tried to get back the rights to their own brand names!
- Complicated Brand Names are Complicated – For every successful Chipotle or Haagen Dazs, there’s a dozen dead brand names buried at the altar of good intentions. Remember: easier is better.
- Be Wary of Similar Names – Jiffy Lube, Jiffy Popcorn, Jiffy Mix, and Jif all co-exist, but I wouldn’t recommend entering into this “jiffy” category.
- Try One Name Brands – If the brand is “YOU,” perhaps you can become the next Adele, Beyoncé, Bono, Seal or Cher.
- Embrace Nicknames – Sometimes a great nickname makes a unique and memorable brand name. Tune in sometime to listen how Eminem, Ice Cube or Lil Buck came into being.
What’s your cool name or naming dilemma? Let me know below.
*NOTE: I’m not an attorney (yeah!) and I’m not dispensing legal advice. I always recommend running any proposed name by your trademark counsel before proceeding. Ask me if you need a referral!