Whether you have a new or established business, trademarks can be an essential part of protecting what often becomes a company’s most important asset:  Its brand and goodwill.  At the startup stage, entrepreneurs often are looking for guidance on how to get the most protection without having to file multiple trademark registration applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  So, we are often asked whether a business should register its name, logo, or both.

As a preliminary matter, it’s important to note that it’s not necessarily your company name that you are registering for trademark protection.  Rather, it’s the name used to identify you as the source of goods or services in the marketplace. Simply using a business name that identifies a corporate entity, but that doesn’t indicate the source of goods or services to a consumer, won’t cut it.

Faced with the question of whether you should register simply the word(s) associated with your goods or services (a word mark) or a logo associated with your goods or services (a design mark), the answer will almost always be a word mark, for a number of reasons.

When you register just your name, it’s considered a “standard character mark” and you’re protecting the name itself, apart from any coloring, font, or other styling of the word(s).  From a legal standpoint, registering a word mark tends to offer the broadest protection, since it prevents others from using your name, in any format or way.  So, for example, a competitor can’t use your name, but in a different style than how you use it. It’s the words themselves that are protected.  You have the exclusive right to that name in your commercial space, and you can prevent others from using the name in any manner – or  anything confusingly similar to it.

On the other hand, when you register your logo, your protection is more limited, since it covers the exact shape, stylization, orientation, and sometimes colors in that logo. Your logo may or may not include your name, but ultimately what you’re preventing others from using is your logo, or something that looks confusingly similar, not your name.

So, while generally speaking, a word mark offers more protection than a design mark, there are circumstances where it will make more sense to register a design mark than word mark. Most commonly, you may be unable to obtain a word mark for a number of reasons, including:

  • – The name is descriptive
  • – The name is geographically descriptive or deceptively misdescriptive
  • – The name is a surname
  • – The name is common or creates a likelihood of confusion with another mark

When one or more of these factors are present, posing a challenge to registering a word mark, a design mark can be a good fallback option to at least protect the logo or other important aspects of the mark.

If your budget allows it, the best strategy usually is to register both your name and logo. Every situation is unique, however. If you have more questions about this topic, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us here or tell us more about your mark through our EntreTrademark service.