Choosing a Trade Name for Your Inventing Business

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Your trade name is your public name -- the moniker that consumers and other businesses will use when contacting you. Once you have picked a legal name, you must decide whether you also want to use it as your trade name. For most inventors, the simplest thing to do is to use the same name for legal and trade purposes. This is especially true when you haven’t even begun marketing your invention.

If, like most independent inventors, you’re a sole proprietor, this means you’ll use your personal name as your trade name. If you’re a partnership, corporation or limited liability company (LLC), you’ll use the name you’ve chosen as your legal name. However, if you’re more concerned with the marketing and sales of your invention and you think your legal name is too dry, you may want to create a trade name that is more striking or memorable.

EXAMPLE: Ambrose Burnside, a sole proprietor who patented a new type of widget, seeks a manufacturer to license and sell his invention. Rather than simply identify his business as “Ambrose Burnside, Sole Proprietor,” he distinguishes his company as Interactive Widgets, believing it more likely to get the attention of prospective licensees.

Your trade name -- regardless of whether it is the same as your legal name -- should not be substantially similar to that of another company in your field. If it is so similar that it is likely to confuse the public, you could be sued under state and federal trademark and unfair competition laws. If you lose such a lawsuit, you may be required to change your name and even pay financial damages.

Check for Similar Names

It’s always a good idea to do a name search for your trade name. If you find a similar name for a company involved in a field that is the same as yours (or related to it), it’s usually best to choose a different name. This avoids potential headaches later on. A name similar to one used by a company in an unrelated field probably won’t pose a problem unless the name is a famous trademark like McDonald’s. For example, even if your name is McDonald, you may run into problems using “McDonald’s Innovations.” Companies with famous names are often fanatical about protecting them under a trademark principle known as dilution.

Here’s how to do a free and quick name search:

  • Type your proposed name or names in an Internet search engine such as Google (www.google.com) to see if other people or companies are using similar names.
  • Find out if there is a similar federally registered trademark by using the U.S.
  • Patent and Trademark Office website (www.uspto.gov). Click “Search Trademarks” on the home page.
  • See if there is a similar unregistered trademark at the Thomas Register (www.thomasregister.com), a comprehensive listing of companies, brand names, products and services.
  • See if there is a similar Internet domain name by doing a search at any domain name registration website, for example Register.com (www.register.com) or Network Solutions (www.netsol.com).
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