4 Preliminary Steps for Checking Brand Name Availability
Choosing a brand name for your company or product line is a fun and sometimes challenging task. There is quite a bit that goes into coming up with something catchy, meaningful, and available.
Trademark infringement is a headache you’d do well to avoid. Of course you wouldn’t intend to use someone else’s brand name illegally, but it’s easy to do by mistake. Imagine if you were to invest your time and money into creating your brand, only to get served papers insisting you need to change your brand name or be sued in court? The protection of your investments and longevity of your brand name require due diligence up front to make sure the name you want to use isn’t already taken.
The most correct way to check for name availbility is to hire a trademark attorney to research prospective names for you. As you are already imagining, this is an expensive process. Large corporations (and companies intending to become large) have this done before any expense is invested in product development. What about small companies? What about sole proprietors? Yes, you also need to do your trademark research. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to use someone else’s brand name. What matters is who started using the brand name first. The only difference between you and a large company is budget; the laws are the same.
To save time and money, you can do some preliminary brand name availbility research on your own. Then you won’t be paying a lawyer to check something unless it really looks available. In fact, if your name search comes up very clean, you might even skip the lawyer and go about trademarking it yourself. So before you fall in love with a brand name, and definitely before you start using it, try my 4 step name check process.
For the purpose of demonstration, let’s see if the name “Jaya Skincare” is available.
Step 1: Do a basic internet search
I prefer to use Google. In the search box, enter the name you are checking. If it is more than one word, put quotation marks around it. That will make your results more relevant.
We are using “Jaya Skincare” as our example. Notice that there are sites with “Jaya” on them that also have “skincare” on them (did you notice my blogs and websites come up?) but there doesn’t seem to be a company called “Jaya Skincare.” Good. We passed this 1st check.
Step 2: See if the domain name is available (and buy it)
If someone else has already bought the “.com” version of your name, it may not be a good choice (unless their product is something completely different.) If it is available you should buy the domain name, partly because you might want to use it someday, and also because you don’t want someone else to buy it away from you.
I prefer to use NameCheap for buying my domains, so let’s check. Wow! It’s taken! http://www.jayaskincare.com/ is owned by a company in Illinois. Even though they don’t have a website up yet, this shows intent. If I was really creating a brand name, I would go back to square one with a new name search. Since this is an example, let’s keep going.
Step 3: Check the US Patent and Trademark Office website
The government has a website where you can search to see if a name is already trademarked. The good news is this saves you a lot of money by doing it yourself. The bad news is it’s a government website, so it’s clunky and confusing. Get your reading glasses out and follow along. Be sure to save this link! It’s not easy to find by digging through the main site.
Here’s the link: http://www.uspto.gov/ebc/index_tm.html
Click on the option that says “Search pending and registered trademarks.” Now we have to select the search form. I’m going to use the one called, “New User Form Search (Basic)” and type Jaya Skincare (no quotation marks this time) in the search box. In this example, there is no trademark on file. We passed the 3rd check!
If the name was trademarked, we would have seen a long list of companies using it. Some of the companies might say “dead” next to the listing, meaning the name is expired. But if you were to see an “active” trademark for the same type of company/product as you, then don’t proceed. Try another name.
Step 4: Has someone incorporated with that name?
If a company has already incorporated with your intended name, then it means they are serious about using it, and I would not proceed. Many states now have online search engines where you can see if a corporate name is available. A trademark attorney would check every state for you, but remember, we’re just trying to do some preliminary research. I suggest that as a minimum, you check the state you are doing business in. Search for your state plus “corporate name search” and you should find the government website for your state (if your state has one.) Most states have separate search boxes for S and C corporations and LLC’s. You need to check both. In this example, there are no companies incorporated as “Jaya Skincare.” So it passes our 4th check!
Important note on DBA businesses. Small businesses (not incorporated) are registered through the county in which they operate. Few if any counties have an online search to see if DBA names are available. In my area, you have to go to the county registrar’s office and look it up on the relatively ancient microfiche. This is a vulnerability in our self-search because a very tiny business in a remote county, anywhere in the US, could be using the name first and have legal rights to it.
This concludes our demo example. We passed 3 of the 4 checks. If I had been trying in earnest, I probably would not proceed with Jaya Skincare as a brand name. I’d come up with a variation or something completely different. Although if I felt really persistant, I might try contacting the owner of that domain name to see if they are serious about that brand name, and if not, ask if I can buy the domain from them. Don’t get discouraged if your first choices are all taken. Keep going until you find something unique and available.
When you do find that perfect name, it will all come together. It’s exciting! You’ll know that your name was “meant to be yours.” It takes marketing and business skills, but lady luck and fate are on your side, too.
Jaya Savannah - Chief Inspiration Officer. Strategy Coach for Holistic Businesses. Trainer, speaker, and writer. Spiritually aware, yet street smart. Elephant lover.