Difference Between a Trade Name and Trademark
When you’re starting a small business in Washington D.C., you can feel overwhelmed trying to understand all the filing requirements, let alone intellectual property laws. Some small business owners mix up the terms “trade name” and “trademark,” which can make a huge difference in legal situations.
What is a Trade Name?
Basically, a trade name is the formal name a company does business under. You’ll hear it called a DBA (“Doing Business As”), a fictitious name, or an assumed name. This is achieved via a business filing. In Washington D.C., a trade name is filed with the Superintendent of Corporations of DCRA. A trade name can refer to a single word, a name, or any combination of a name or words that is used by a business owner to create a unique identity. It typically doesn’t include the real names of those running the business.
Trade names offer no type of brand protection nor do they grant you the right to unlimited use of your fictitious name.
You’ll need a trade name when you are doing business under any name other than your legal name. For example, Joe Smith sets up a new construction company and calls it Joe Smith Construction. He will need to complete the paperwork and register that as his fictitious business name. DBAs are used in some sole proprietorships and partnerships, as well as LLCs and corporations.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark offers protection for your brand name. It can also protect other things like symbols, slogans, and logos. A trademark can also be associated with your business’s trade name. Since your business name is likely one of your most valuable assets, it’s important to protect that by proceeding with a formal trademark application.
It’s important to distinguish between a trade name and a trademark. The United States Small Business Administration points out that if a business starts using its trade name to identify services and products, people may perceive that its name is acting as a functioning trademark. This is important as it has the potential to infringe on existing trademarks.
Trademarks can be registered on a federal level through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). There is an option to file online using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), but you’ll need to do some research first. Start by identifying what is eligible for a trademark, and then you need to do an existing trademark search through the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
To register a trademark on a state level, you’ll need to check the USPTO’s State Trademark Information page. This can direct you to the specific trademark office where you can do a search and verify the specific state rules.
Retaining a Washington DC Small Business Attorney
The USPTO has authority to issue penalties and fines for possible trademark infringement and clashes, which is why it’s very important to retain a good Washington DC small business lawyer when you’re setting up your business. The attorneys at Tobin O’Connor & Ewing are experienced with business startups of all sizes. We can prepare and draft all the necessary paperwork as well. Contact our office at 202-362-5900 today to schedule a consultation.