Setting up a business is always a hassle. One of the biggest issues is what to call your business. Often the name means the difference between success and failure.
1-800-CONTACTS started as a college senior project for a business school student. He got the right 800 number and then he named the company the same as the telephone number. What he found was anytime somebody, anybody, advertized contacts, his phone started to ring. In a few short years his senior project has gone from zero to a billion dollar company.
The name means something. You’re probably not going to get a company name that will spontaneously generate money for you when your competitors advertize, but you need to pay attention to what you name your company. Let’s look at considerations you need to think about when you start a company and pick the name.
Use Your Name
Your customers buy you. You are the main reason people come to your company. When I started LegaLees thirty years ago, I thought it was a cute pun on my name. After a decade, I thought it was a little too cutesy and wanted to change the name. Then I figured out that the name had some good will associated with it, so I kept the name.
I didn’t call the company Lee Phillips Legal. I thought that was arrogant. Big Mistake! I am the recognized name, not LegaLees. You will be the recognized name. Don’t think it is arrogant to have your name be the business name.
Is Your Company Name Available at the State?
Check to see if the name you choose is available to use for a company. Your state website should have a “name availability” search mechanism. See if the name is available. If you are using your own name your chances of getting the name are a lot better. I could do Lee Phillips Legal in my state.
You can’t use a name that would be confusing with another business. I set up a company, Alpine Laboratories. The state wouldn’t let me use the name because there was an Alpine Electronics. It took me some time to convince the state there wouldn’t be any confusion. In fact, I had to get a note from Alpine Electronics saying it was ok with them.
If my name is in the name of the company, it is less likely to be confusing, because I am the only Lee Phillips lawyer in the state.
Is the Name Available as a Domain Name?
I am just sick, because back in 1991 when I started playing with the internet, I could have gotten any domain I wanted. In fact, at one point I owned the domain www.com. I thought it was stupid to get my own name. BIG MISTAKE!!
Today, the domain name is a big deal. In 1991 I created a training course so people could market on the internet. It may have been the first such course. I would give stage presentations to try and sell my training course. People would actually laugh at me when I predicted a billion dollar internet market. They wouldn’t believe that every company would have a “www” thing.
Your internet domain may not exactly match the name of your company, but you need to have your domain name lined up before or at least at the time you file your company name with the state.
Does Your Company Name Violate Copyright or Trademark Laws?
Your company name can’t be confusing with someone else that has trademarked and/or copyrighted their name. Names can be trademarked at the state level and/or the national level. Most are trademarked at the federal level.
You can check the federal trademark registry at: http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/index.jsp
You’re not going to get McDonalds through as a trademark on any business that has to do with food, but you could trademark McDonalds for shoes. (Assuming there isn’t already a McDonalds shoes.) Trademarks are divided up into “classes,” and if your name is available in the class (business type) you want, then you can probably get it.
Usually, the company name isn’t trademarked, because the mark has to be “used” on a product. That could be an advertising piece, consumer product or lots of places. You can file the application for the mark and then supply the “use” examples later. An attorney should charge $500-$2,000 for standard trademark applications. If prosecution (applying) of the mark becomes complicated then the costs can go up.
You can claim a trademark by putting the little TM on the product. When you have officially filed with the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) then you use the little circle R. ® You do not have to file to use the TM, but it will only protect you in the state where you are first to do business with that name in the class that would apply to the trademark.
You should try and formally protect your name if you are “going national” with your business.
What’s in a name? Everything, if you are doing business.