Registering a trademark for a business name can help protect your brand and ensure that your competitors don’t use a similar name. State trademark registration is simple, relatively inexpensive, and offers some protection within your state. Federal trademark registration is more complex and costly, but it helps you protect and enforce your trademark nationwide, and provides numerous other benefits including the ability to use the ® symbol and protect your mark in federal court.
What Are Trademarks?
Trademarks consist of designs, symbols, words or phrases that identify the source of products or services and distinguish them from competitors’ offerings. Business names, logos, and product labels can all be protected by trademark law.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to register your trademark to obtain trademark protection. Simply using your trademark in commerce provides common law protections. But a common law trademark may only protect you in your immediate locality.
State trademark registration can help protect your business name throughout your state. Federal trademark registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) protects your trademark nationwide, and along with a host of additional protections, allows you to register your trademark in other countries and sue for trademark infringement in federal court.
Registering a Business Name in Your State
If you have formed a limited liability company, corporation or other formal business entity, you have already registered your business name in your state. Forming a business entity places other people on notice that you are using your business name, and no other business entity can be formed in your state using the same name. Business entity formation fees vary from state to state, but are often $150 or less.
If you operate as a sole proprietorship or partnership, you can register your business name as a trade name, also known as a fictitious business name, a “doing business as” name, or a DBA. In some states, you can register your name statewide by filing a form and paying a fee that typically ranges from $50–$150. Other states don’t have statewide registration of trade names, and you must register the name with your city or county. Fees can vary.
Trademark a Business Name With the USPTO
Trademarking a name by applying for trademark registration with the USPTO involves filing an application that identifies the trademark and the class of goods or services that you’re using it for.
You can submit a trademark registration application online, using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) or through an online service. The USPTO also accepts paper applications but strongly prefers electronic applications. Trademark fees for electronic applications are currently $225–$400 per class of goods or services, depending on the type of application you file. The trademark cost for registering with a paper application is currently $600 per class of goods or services.
If you use your mark in connection with more than one class of goods and services—such as both t-shirts and software—you must pay the filing fee for each class of goods and services. The fee is not returned to you if your trademark registration application is ultimately denied.
If you choose to hire a lawyer to conduct a trademark search or help you with the trademark registration process, you will also incur legal fees. Many lawyers charge by the hour, with rates typically ranging from about $125 to a few hundred dollars. Some lawyers will handle trademark registrations for a flat fee.
Every 10 years, you must file an application to renew your trademark registration. The USPTO’s fees for trademark registration renewals are approximately $300 for an electronic application and about $400 for a paper application.
Trademarking a business name can offer valuable protection. You may be able to obtain state trademark registration for $100–$200. Federal trademark registration extends your protection nationwide and offers other important advantages, but it typically costs more: $275–$375 for each class of goods and services that you want to protect.