Domain Names vs Business Names vs Trademarks
Legal Identity and Trademarks
In my conversations with entrepreneurs and business owners I have discovered that there is much confusion regarding the differences between a business name, a domain name and a federal trademark. Fortunately, it’s not as complicated as it seems.
A business name is the legal name of the business entity (corporation, LLC, a limited or general partnership) you create in order to do business. You must register your business name or a fictitious name with the appropriate state agency in the state or states in which you want to conduct business. Your business name is the name that is used on the federal tax returns for your business and on legal contracts to identify your business. Registering a business name or a fictitious name with a state agency in order to do business is not the same thing as obtaining a federal trademark.
A domain name is a web address. A domain name consists of the words and/or numbers that people will type into the address bar of an internet browser in order to get to your website. Almost every business has a domain name and a website. You can obtain a domain name through a domain name registrar like GODADDY or VERISIGN. The domain name that you request is not examined by the registrar in any way other than to make sure that the domain name that you want is not registered by someone else. If the domain you register includes someone else’s registered trademark, you could be forced to turn over that domain to the trademark owner. Therefore, registering a domain name is not the same thing as obtaining a federal trademark.
A trademark is any word, slogan, design, symbol or combination of these which does two things: 1) it has to designate the source of a good or service; and 2) it has to differentiate that good or service from others in the marketplace. A trademark can also be a sound, a color, or a smell. In order to obtain a federal trademark registration you must apply to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Before issuing a trademark registration, the attorneys at the USPTO will examine your trademark application and make sure that your trademark:
1) Meets the legal requirements to be registered as a trademark
2) Is not the same or confusingly similar to any existing federal trademarks.
A trademark can also be obtained from a state, like Florida, that issues state trademark registrations.
A federal trademark provides you with the following rights and legal presumptions:
• You have the exclusive right to use the mark in the entire U.S.
• The registration puts the entire U.S. public on notice that you are the owner of the mark;
• Gives you the right to file a legal action concerning your trademark in federal court;
• Gives you the ability to use the federal registration symbol ®
• You can register your mark with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to assist you in keeping infringing goods out of the country
Only a federal trademark registration gives you the exclusive right to use your mark and the legal right to prevent competitors and other parties from using a name that is identical or confusingly similar to your trademark anywhere in the entire United States. Neither a business name, fictitious name nor a domain name can provide the rights and legal presumptions of a federal trademark registration.
As Johnson Moss we are experts in providing the right advice and guidance to make sure that your business identity is protected in Florida and throughout the United States. If you have any questions about trademark registration, please schedule a quick phone call with us to discuss your options.