Let’s Bust Some Trademark Myths!
Let’s bust some trademark myths! In this article we address the most common misconceptions about trademark protection. Trademark isn’t generally taught in courses and seminars for entrepreneurship, so it is no wonder that there is so much misunderstanding around it! Let’s talk about the four most common trademark myths out there.
Myth #1 – I registered my business name with my state so I own it.
Wrong! This is one of the most common trademark myths I encounter in my practice. Merely registering a business name with your state doesn’t give you trademark rights. Your state registration gives you the rights to use that name in your state – nowhere else. And many state registries will allow very similar names – just adding “the” or pluralizing a name might be enough to get it through.
Registering a fictitious name provides no legal rights at all. It just tells your customers who they are really doing business with so they know who to name in a lawsuit. If you want to own the legal rights to your name, file an application for trademark registration.
Myth #2 – I bought the domain so I own my name.
Again, wrong. Owning a domain name provides no legal rights. And in fact, if you bought the domain name of a registered trademark, the trademark owner may be able to force you to sign it over to them!
In addition, registering a name in your state or purchasing a domain does NOT necessarily mean that the name is available for your use. It is absolutely critical to do a trademark search before you start using a name to make sure you are not infringing the registered trademark of another business.
Myth #3 – I’m using the “tm” symbol so I’m protected.
This common trademark myth stems from a misunderstanding of what the “tm” stands means. Yes, you have the right to use the ™ or SM designation even if you haven’t filed a trademark application with the USPTO. And yes, I advise my clients to do this. BUT, the ™ and SM designators do not confer any specific legal rights or protections! They merely provide notice to the public that you consider this mark to be your intellectual property and your presumed intent to file for a federal registration.
Even if you are using the ™ symbol, if another business files a registration for your mark, you lose. You have common law rights that protect you in your local geographical area – but theyl own the rights everywhere else, precluding you from ever expanding. You don’t get trademark rights to your name until you file a trademark application and it actually registers. Then you’ll use the ® symbol to tell the whole world that you own a registered trademark.
Myth #4 – I searched the USPTO and my mark isn’t there, so it’s available.
I can’t tell you how many potential clients I’ve heard this from. Just because you did not find an exact match in the USPTO database does not mean your mark is available. Until you’ve performed a Comprehensive Trademark Clearance Search, you have no idea how many potential marks you may be infringing or how many barriers to registration exist. Nothing you can do on your own, and nothing the discount search companies will provide you, will cover the scope of a true comprehensive trademark clearance search.
If you would like to explore locking down the legal rights to your brand, schedule a Trademark Discovery Call with me!