Trade Mark or Trade Name?

The name on the door of a business, the name in the telephone book, or the name on a Web site, is the name under which a person or company does business. It’s a business name. It is not per se a trademark.

Selecting a business name is relatively uncomplicated. There are few restrictions. In general, as long as no one in the same market area — that’s usually in the same state in the U.S. — is using exactly the same business or corporate name, then only practicality, preference, and community standards matter in the choice of a name.

Even when a company expands into another market (state, territory, or country), where its corporate name, company name, or current business name may be in use by another, the company may still do business in that market under an “assumed” name or “d/b/a” (doing business as) name, as long as the registration to do business in that market correctly identifies the actual person or business entity to be known by the assumed name. The name on the building or in the phone book under which business is conducted, often called a trade name, is not a trademark.

A trademark is not the name that appears on the sign over the door, nor the name listed in the telephone book. A trademark is, specifically, the mark placed on the goods sold by a business, or the mark used in advertising and promotion to identify the particular services provided by a business. This mark, often refered to as the “brand” or the “label,” distinguishes the actual goods and services traded in commerce by one business from the goods and services of any other manufacturer or provider. A trademark on a product may sometimes use the same name as the trade name of the business that manufactures the goods or provides the services. Or a trademark may incorporate the trade name. But the trademark is not the same as the trade name. Likewise, a business’s “logo” may be used as or in a trademark, but a logo is a trademark only if it is used as a trademark on the goods, or in connection with the services that the business sells.

For a number of reasons, the choice of a trademark must be made with care — in addition, of course, to the special, practical concerns related to advertising and marketing. Not the least reason for taking special care to choose a trademark is that a considerable investment will go into identifying that mark with a particular product or set of products. Such an investment should not be made into something that ultimately may not be protected as a trademark in every market in which the products identified.