“I'm just small time and I only play music in my area. I did a search for my company name when I set up the business 10 years ago. Why would I need to search for it again?” Or so I thought. That's just wrong. I didn't even catch on when I noticed someone else rising above my site in the search engines when searching for my brand name.
Names are important. And lawyers make a lot of money dealing with people like me. We think ahead, but don't keep thinking ahead repeatedly over the lifespan of our brands and businesses. In the end, I had to change my company name and branding. Start now to learn from my years of ignoring the importance of a business name even as a musician or artist. We creatives work hard to market ourselves. Might as well let that hard work benefit you.
Let me repeat two things that I said in my recent blog on branding:
- Keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer, so in no way is any of this to be taken as legal advice. I'm just writing from my own experience and information provided to me by other artists and musicians who have run into questions or problems with their branding.
- Trademark issues are a complex part of branding even when it comes to things that seem as simple as
- using your own name as a business name;
- thinking you're small-time enough to not be noticed;
- choosing a domain name for your business web site.
Everything you do in business is another chance to be seen by a competitor who will want your market share. Sad, but true. And this is no reason to hide in your art/music studio and never let any of your creative work out into the world. Do some simple things to protect your branding. Start with learning enough to be smart about the importance of your business name — even if it is your name.
Here are a few resources that were helpful to me in the process of changing my brand name and company name and getting it trademarked.
- USPTO: The people who approve trademarks in the USA have an excellent web site filled with information, a “basic trademark search” tool, and electronic submission of forms required to apply for a trademark.
- Like branding, you will have to review your trademarks regularly. For example, trademark registration requires regular renewals. Bookmark the search sites and put reminders in your calendar to review your trademark protection.
- In the USA, your state probably has a web site for obtaining a corporate, LLC, DBA or other business name. In Pennsylvania, you can find resources for name availability and business name search (registration required). Of course, like everything in this article, you should consult with an attorney who specializes in this stuff if you are at all unsure.
- Google. Seriously. Search for your desired trademark. It's important to know if someone else is using the same brand/company name.
- Use the little “TM” mark next to your name even before your trademark registration is completed. It tells the world that this is “the mark of your trade”.
- Nolo Press is an awesome resource. They have helpful online FAQ's and more about trademarks and related issues. Of course, their books on the subject are top notch. Like me, Nolo will tell you that there is no better trademark resource than an attorney who specializes in trademark law.
- If you're looking for pointers on international trademarks, here are some possible starting points. I have not personally dealt with international trademarking.
- USPTO again has some pointers.
- “The International Trademark Association (INTA) is a not-for-profit membership association dedicated to the support and advancement of trademarks and related intellectual property as elements of fair and effective commerce.”
- World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Madrid System for the International Registration of Trademarks
Whew! Like me, you may end up saying “this is more about trademark law than I ever wanted to know.” There's no time like the present to learn enough to be smart. Better to be informed than on the receiving end of a cease & desist order that you could have avoided.
Tough to say this on such a serious subject, but here goes…