How to Protect Your Business’s Name

December 6, 2012

What’s in a name? In many cases, it’s everything. It’s how you connect with your customers and how those customers draw a mental link to the quality of the goods and services you provide. No, we’re not talking about your business’s reputation or “goodwill” in the community. It’s much more tangible than that. We’re talking about physically protecting the trade name you selected for your business.

Why is it so important for you to have the exclusive rights to the business name? It’s important because it distinguishes you from your competitors. It’s important because your business trade name may bear the family name (or perhaps your own name), meaning that your business and personal reputations in the community are indistinguishable. It’s important because your business may be a clever play on words, or a phrase that customers associate with something historic, cultural, or even sport-related. When someone speaks of your business, people need to instantly recognize that what the person is talking about is your exact operation at your exact location.

The best initial step to protecting a business name is to hire a Sacramento small business attorney to incorporate your business. Your attorney can help you determine if your desired name already exists, or is too similar to another one already existing. The attorney can help you choose the best entity type for liability protection and tax purposes. Yet even with all of these precautions, new businesses will always emerge, and some of them might even threaten your livelihood by choosing a business name that’s too similar to your own.

If that is the case, your Sacramento business lawyer can provide another valuable function. The best way to keep another business from operating under a name that could confuse your customers is to have your attorney draft a cease-and-desist letter. A typical cease-and-desist letter explains that your business has been incorporated under the laws of the state in which you operate. It explains that a similar business using the same (or substantially similar) name within a reasonably close geographic area constitutes an infringement on the fair operation of your business. These letters typically conclude with a date by which the offending business must change its name to be in compliance with your intellectual property rights, and the legal remedies you may pursue if they do not comply. These remedies typically include an injunction (a court order to do something or refrain from doing something) and/or a claim for money damages.

In the event that your competitor wants to bring a legal challenge as to your exclusive rights to the business name, your Sacramento business attorney can also be your legal representative in the litigation. A skilled attorney will be able to persuade the court that your competitor’s use of your business name could confuse potential customers and drive away a portion of your sales. And if need be, your attorney can point you to a capable patent and trademark specialist so that you can add an extra layer of protection to your livelihood.

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