How to Play the Name Game: The Why and How of Trademarks

Article excerpt

Excerpted from the book Indie Business Power: A Step-by-Step Guide for 21st Century Music Entrepreneurs, by Peter Spellman

Whether you are starting a new band or founding your own recording company, your business's name will be its number one asset, so it makes sense to take care in choosing one. The right name will help distinguish you from a sea of bland competitors, provide customers with a reason to hire you, and aid in branding your business or music. Here are five guidelines to help you decide:

* Make the name meaningful. It may be the first thing someone knows about your music or your business; consider it an important marketing tool.

* It should be easy to pronounce and remember.

* Make sure it's unique and available.

* Choose a name that you can grow with. Be forward thinking so that it can expand with you.

* Check if you can obtain a suitable Internet domain name for it, too. This can be done through a registration website, such as godaddy.com or register.com.

Once you have selected a name, it is important to get it trademarked. A trademark protects the distinguishing identity of goods and services. A word, name, symbol, phrase, slogan, or a combination of these items, can be trademarked. Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks affect all businesses because they distinguish the goods and services of one company from those of another. When you use the name of your group or business publicly, you are using a trademark.

Both the federal government, through the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and each state have the power to grant trademarks. Federal law requires marks to be used in interstate commerce (i.e., doing verifiable business between two or more states), while state registration can be used to protect a regional mark from competitive use. The ® symbol means the USPTO has reviewed and registered the mark. A "TM" symbol, on the other hand, indicates that the word, phrase, or design is being used and claimed as a trademark, but is not yet federally registered.

Before applying for a trademark, you will want to ensure no one else has already registered the name. You can do a trademark search for free on the Internet by visiting the USPTO website (www.uspto.gov). Or you can visit one of the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries available in every state. Most of these libraries have step-by-step instructions for searching registered and pending marks. One place to search for unregistered trademarks is The. Thomas Register of Goods and Services (thomasregister.com). To check artist and band names, you can check online directories, like the Ultimate Band List (www.ubl.com) and the All-Music Guide (www.allmusic.com).

Because the name is a valuable asset of your band or business, it's crucial to protect it relentlessly. You automatically have some protection for a trademark, if you were the first person to use it in commerce, even if you didn't formally register it with USPTO. …