What Rights Do You Have in Your Business Name?

There are many different types of protections available for a business owner’s name. The most basic protections come from having a legal name, whereas a trademark can carry with it national (and sometimes international) protections.  Below is a simple breakdown of some different types of business names and the protections they provide.

·   Legal Names. A business’s legal name is the name filed with the applicable state when the company is formed. This name is also on file with any other state where the company registers to do business. Once you register a name with a state, no other business may register to use that name in the same state, although variations of the same name are allowed; however, another business could register with the same name in a different state. The legal name does not provide much protection except that no other company may have the same name in the states where a company registers to do business.

·   Trade Names. A trade name is the name that a company uses in conducting business with customers. A trade name may be the same or different than the legal name. A trade name may be a fictitious name often referred to as a “Doing Business As” (DBA). For example, you may register your legal name as Jewelry Makers LLC, but you may operate that business as Jazzy Jewels or something completely different, like Julie’s Sparkles. Here, your trade name would be Jazzy Jewels or Julie’s Sparkles. Many businesses choose to never acquire a fictitious name, in which case the company would operate under the legal name and not register for a trade name. If you want to use a trade name in Missouri different than your legal name, you must register it. Kansas has no such requirement. It is important to know that a registered trade name will not necessarily allow you exclusive rights to a name. In Missouri, if your trade name, but not your legal name, is Jazzy Jewels, another company could register their legal name as Jazzy Jewels LLC.

·   Trademarks.  A trademark is protection for a word, name, symbol, sound or color that distinguishes your goods or services as unique from other goods or services. Think of a trademark as your logo or slogan. Trademarks must meet specifications that distinguish your logo or slogan as special or different from others in the same market.  State common law and state statutes provide trademark protection; however, federal law provides the most extensive source of trademark protection. Trademarks must be registered with the state or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. There are also some international trademark associations such as the Madrid System.

Each business owner’s needs are different and require an in depth analysis of the business operations, the current and future business plan and the desires of the owner(s) in order to determine the appropriate path for a business.