There is one thing people will always associate with your business – its name. Apple, Patagonia, Facebook, Ford – tech, non-tech, it does not matter. A memorable name can be integral to your brand. And today that brand lives both offline and online, so you should choose a name that is not only evocative of your brand but also is useable online, because the internet drives or touches so much of modern commerce.
No founder wants the climactic event at their company launch party to be a red carpet appearance by a cease and desist letter. To prevent this and other awkward missteps, it is critical that you do the research necessary to confirm that you are legally authorized to use the name you desire. Here are a few steps you can take to find a useable name for your company:
• Confirm it’s available in your state of incorporation. Most states have a website for their Division of Corporations, or equivalent state office, where you can check to determine if a business entity formed in that jurisdiction is already registered under that name, or a variation of it. A search of the Delaware Division of Corporations (DE Corporations Division: Name Search) reveals that there are no entities with the name “Fast Marlin” registered in Delaware, but 372 entities with the word “Acme” in their name. (The entity search does not definitively tell you whether your name is taken — it may not be up-to-date to the minute – but it is a pretty good indicator.) Once you have settled on what you believe is a useable name, you can usuallymake a filing in that state to reserve the name, and then you must incorporate or form your entity within that state within a certain period of time after the reservation in order to secure the name.
• Do a Trademark Search. Searching the name and brand you’d like to use before finalizing your choice helps avoid that early cease and desist letter and a strategically selected brand can help launch your business. A very limited knock out search can be done by searching the records on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website at www.uspto.gov. Even if you want to do that initial search yourself, further searching should be done by a trademark attorney to make sure your brand is available and not likely to infringe another company’s rights. A trademark attorney using in-house and vendor provided searching tools can give you clear advice regarding the availability of you proposed brand, including a risk assessment if you wish to move forward. There are several levels of searching to chose among to fit your budget and risk tolerance profile. All marks should be cleared at least in the U.S. and, if there are clear international opportunities and plans for distribution of your products and/or services, internationally in your initial target countries.
• Do a Domain Name Search and Register Your Domain. Finding a domain name that includes your brand can significantly enhance consumer brand awareness and make it easier for your clients and customers to find you. The availability of a domain name can be checked through several services, including www.domaintools.com, www.whois.net and www.networksolutions.com. Once selected you can also use these services to register your domain name. You may also want to register variations and/or other top level extensions in addition to .com so that you can reduce the likelihood of cybersquatters as your new business grows. For example, if your new domain name will be fastmarlin.com, you may also want to register fastmarlin.net, fastmarlin.org, fastmarlin.us and fastmarlin.biz. Sometimes it is also advisable to register misspellings such as fastmarlan.com.
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