How To Trademark Your Own Name

0688 Pittsburgh - Senator John Heinz History Center by Klaus Nahr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

0688 Pittsburgh – Senator John Heinz History Center by Klaus Nahr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Recently a friend posted on my Facebook page, “I’m considering trademarking my name. Can I do that?”

Yes you can, but it’s a little complicated. Let’s start with some trademark basics.

There are five ways to describe a potential trademark: fanciful, arbitrary, suggestive, descriptive or generic. Fanciful, arbitrary, and suggestive marks can be registered on what’s called the primary registry of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as soon as you’re using them in commerce. When yo have a registered trademark, no one can enter the market in your industry and use your trademark or something confusingly similar to it. Generic marks can never be registered. Descriptive marks fall in between these two groups.

Descriptive trademarks describe the product they’re attached to. If you have a descriptive mark, you can put on the USPTO’s secondary registry when you start using it in commerce, but you can’t bump it to the primary registry until have “acquired distinctiveness,” which typically happens after five years of continuous use.

When you name your business after yourself – i.e., John Smith Graphic Design (and your name is John Smith), you have a descriptive trademark. If you’ve only been in business for a short time, the USPTO doesn’t want to give you the exclusive rights to your name in your industry – thus all the other John Smiths who are graphic designers couldn’t call their companies, “John Smith Graphic Design” or something similar to it. They make you wait until you’ve been in business for five years before giving you nationwide exclusivity over your company name in your industry.

So can my friend register a trademark for her name? Probably, but I’d have to take a closer look at her situation to determine how long she’s been using it as a trademark and whether someone else has already registered the same name in the same industry.

If you have any questions about whether you can register your desired trademark, feel free to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, or send me an email. You can also subscribe to the firm’s monthly newsletter. If you want more information about Carter Law Firm, please visit the homepage.

Can You Trademark a Hashtag?

Rémi Beaupré, Meme Snippets, 2012 by Retis from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Rémi Beaupré, Meme Snippets, 2012 by Retis from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I spoke at TechPhx on Social Media Horror Stories from the Legal Trenches. One of the stories I told was Turner Barr’s experience with having his blog, Around the World in 80 Jobs, essentially shut down because another company registered the trademark in the same name. At the end of my talk, someone asked if you could register the trademark in a hashtag.

A trademark is the words, slogans, logos, colors, packaging, etc., you put on your products that differentiate you from your competition. If you don’t register your trademark, you get the exclusive right to use your marks where you’ve established your market. When you register your trademark, you get the exclusive rights to use your marks on your type of products everywhere in the U.S. If you want to know more about trademarks, check the story behind the Burger King trademark.

Hash Tags are Like Snow Flakes by cambodia4kids.org from Flickr  (Creative Commons License)

Hash Tags are Like Snow Flakes by cambodia4kids.org from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Just like you can register a trademark in a company name, product name, or slogan, you can register a trademark in a hashtag. The first rule is your trademark can’t be the generic product. If you own a coffee shop, you can’t register the trademark #coffee. If the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) let you have that, you could stop your competition from calling their coffee “coffee,” which would be very confusing. You could register your business name (i.e., #DansCoffee) or a slogan like #GreatMornings or #WheresMyMug.

The second rule is you can’t claim a trademark that your competition is already using. If you were a soda manufacturer, you couldn’t register the trademark #Coke or #CocaCola unless you were the Coca-Cola Company.

Another thing to keep in mind is when you register your trademark, you have to declare what you’re claiming as your trademark and what goods or services you’re using it on. You only get the exclusive rights to your mark in your arena of goods. You can’t stop another company from using a similar trademark on their products as long as they are completely unrelated.

Registering a trademark allows you to prevent your competition from using your trademark or something similar to it. It doesn’t give you the ability to stop people from using your slogan in their everyday lives. For instance, the Williamstown Theatre Festival could register the trademark in the hashtag #WTF which would allow them to prevent other theatres from using the same hashtag to promote their products, services, and events, but it would allow them to stop everyone who uses it on Twitter to mean “What The Fuck.”

Registering a trademark is a long process. It can take months for the USPTO to look at your application and then there may be several rounds of communications between you and the USPTO before your trademark is approved. If you want to claim the exclusive right to use your desired hashtag, it should be for something that you’re planning on using for a long time.

So can you register a trademark in a hashtag? Yes. Should you register your hashtag as a trademark? It depends on your situation. That should probably require a joint meeting with your marketing staff and your lawyers. If you want to chat with me about this or any other topic, you can connect with meTwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
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Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How To Trademark a Business Name

Can programming language names be trademarks? by opensourceway from Flickr

Can programming language names be trademarks? by opensourceway from Flickr

Last week a friend asked me if a business could trademark their name. Anyone who’s spent much time with me knows that the answer to every legal question is “It depends.” In this case it depends on whether your business name is trademarkable and if anyone else had claimed the same or a similar name for your category of goods or services.

When you start a business, check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database to see if anyone has registered the name you want to use (or a similar one) for selling the same goods and services as you. If someone’s already using the name you want, you will likely be infringing on their trademark rights if you use the name on your products. They could force you to change your name and rebrand if you use the name that someone’s already registered. If you were using the business name on your products and someone registers the name before you, you’ll be in the Burger King situation where you can keep using your name, but only in your established market.

Once you establish that your desired name hasn’t been registered by someone else, you have to look at whether the name you want is trademarkable. Not every business or product name can be a registered trademark. Here are the five types of trademarks.

1. Fanciful Marks: Fanciful marks are words that didn’t exist before you stuck it on your products. Examples include Exxon and Kodak. These marks can be registered with the USPTO main registry.

2. Arbitrary Marks: Arbitrary marks are words in real life, but they are stuck on a product that has no connection to the word. For example, the mark “Apple” for computers, cell phones, and digital music players is an arbitrary mark. The fruit has nothing to do with digital machines and gadgets. These marks can be registered with the USPTO main registry.

3. Suggestive Marks: Suggestive marks are marks where if you think about it, you can make a connection between the mark and the product. “Playboy” as a mark for a men’s magazine is a suggestive mark. These marks can be registered with the USPTO main registry. It’s sometimes hard to discern the difference between suggestive and descriptive marks.

4. Descriptive Marks: Descriptive marks merely describe the product. This includes businesses where the owner names the business after themselves. These marks can be registered on the USPTO main registry after they’ve established “acquired distinctiveness,” which usually means you’ve been using the mark for five years.

5. Generic Marks: Generic marks are the name of the products themselves. It would be if you had an apple orchard and wanted to sell your apples using the mark “Apples.” If the USPTO let you register that mark, no other apple farmers could call their apples “apples” without infringing on your trademark rights. Generic marks can never be registered with the USPTO.

This video may help. You can watch it below or see it here.

If you want to know if your business name can be your trademark and the risks and rewards surrounding registering your mark, contact a trademark attorney in your community.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

DMCA Abuse

Copyright license choice by opensourceway from Flickr

Copyright license choice by opensourceway from Flickr

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is part of the copyright law. Its purpose is to protect people who provide online forums but don’t control the content people post to them – like YouTube and Pinterest. If they receive a notice that material on their site is allegedly copyright infringement, they must remove it. This law gives content creators a way to react to copyright infringement when someone posts their work online without permission. Instead of sending a cease and desist letter to the person who stole their work, they bypass them and deal with the infringer’s webhost instead.

Lately, I’ve seen a few instances where people have been improperly using the DMCA to get material removed from the internet that they don’t like. I’m starting to refer to these acts as DMCA abuse.

1. Using the DMCA to address TM Infringement
The DMCA should only be used for copyright issues – when you suspect someone is using your original content without your permission. Don’t use it to removed suspected instances of trademark infringement.

In a recent incident, GoPro allegedly sent a DMCA takedown notice to DigitalRev’s webhost to remove a picture of its camera from the site. The photo was in article that compared GoPro against another camera. GoPro didn’t think DigitalRev copied their content, but that they were using a picture of the camera that had the wrong branding. GoPro should have sent DigitalRev an email with a correct image of the camera instead of getting the whole article pulled for alleged copyright infringement.

2. Using the DMCA to Eliminate the Original
This story really bothered me. Somebody copied someone’s original content onto their site, and then used the DMCA to claim that they were the real owners and get the original removed for its site. Thankfully the original author could get their work put back on their site by sending a DMCA counter takedown notice.

Apparently this is a common incident. This behavior was so disturbing, I had to make a video about it.

If you think you have questions about how you, your brand, or your content is being used online, please consult an intellectual property attorney. Don’t just send a DMCA takedown notice – that may not be the right tool to address your problem. When you send a DMCA takedown notice, you attest under the penalty of perjury, that your statements are true. If you send a DMCA takedown notice and it turns out what you did qualifies as what I call DMCA abuse, you may have committed a crime.

For more information about copyright, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed.
You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Can Kasperski keep the FnB Name?

Old Scottsdale Sign by kmaschke from Flickr

Whenever I ask my friends where I should take my quasi-foodie parents when they visit, one of the most common answers I get is FnB. This little restaurant in Scottsdale has won a bunch of awards and gotten a lot of good press since it opened three years ago, including a mention in Food & Wine magazine. The owners Charleen Badman and Pavle Milic recently announced that they’re moving FnB to a new location at the beginning of 2013. Shortly after that, FnB’s soon-to-be former landlord, Peter Kasperski, announced he wanted to keep the name “FnB.”

According to Phoenix New Times, he came up with the name and he likes it, but does that give him ownership rights in the name?

Probably not.

A trademark is the mark used with a product or service that distinguishes it from its competition and informs consumers about the source and quality of what they’re buying. In regards to a restaurant, a mark could be the name, the way the restaurant is decorated (trade dress), logos, and/or slogans. When you have a trademark, you have the exclusive right to use it on your products or services in your established market. If your register your company’s trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, you get the exclusive right to use your mark on your products and services nationwide. No one can start a business or create a similar product with a mark that is similar to yours.

Unfortunately, no one has registered “FnB” with the USPTO for use with a restaurant. If Badman and Milic did that, they would have exclusive control over who could open an FnB restaurant anywhere in the U.S.

All is not lost in this story. If Badman and Milic can argue that they are known nationwide, they can make the argument that their established market is the entire country so no one can call their restaurant “FnB” without their consent. There was a case in 1948 about a fancy New York restaurant called “The Stork Club.” They had spent thousands of dollars in nationwide advertising and had been featured in news articles in newspapers throughout the country. They were able to force a small tavern in San Francisco called “Stork Club” to change its name because they made the argument that consumers might think the tavern was affiliated with the restaurant, which could hurt the restaurant’s reputation.

What about Kasperski’s statement that he thought of the name? Trademark rights come from using the mark in commerce. From what I can tell, he’s leased property to a company that used the name. If he didn’t use it himself, he has no trademark rights in the name.

According to Phoenix New Times, Kasperski claims he’s partners with Badman and Milic. I looked up Badman and Milic’s LLC and he’s not listed as an owner, so I’ve seen no evidence that supports that claim.

Kasperski also said Badman and Milic will be successful without the FnB name. Given their success so far, that is probably true; however, that doesn’t change their rights in their business’ name. They were the ones who used the name in their business and build a stellar reputation. Unless there are contracts that explicit give Kasperski rights in the FnB name, I foresee him struggling to make a valid claim in the trademark rights.

The take away lesson: If you want to avoid problems like this, talk with an intellectual property attorney about registering your trademark with the USPTO.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

The Risk Of Not Registering Your Trademark

Kitty Your Ad Here by Shannon Kringen

If you’re a small business owner you probably created an LLC. You may have even registered your trade name with the Secretary of State. A lot of small businesses don’t see the value in registering their trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). If you register your mark with the USPTO, you can prevent anyone in the country from using your mark in their business in a confusingly similar way.

If you’re a local business, you may question the value in being able to claim your trademark in all 50 states. The question you should ask is, “What do I risk if I don’t?” Let me tell you a story.

The Finer Things in Life by comedy_nose

The first Burger King restaurant was little place in Mattoon, Illinois. It looks like a mom and pop restaurant. They didn’t register their trademark with the USPTO. After this Burger King opened, the Burger King franchise as we know it was created, and they registered the Burger King trademark with the USPTO. The original Burger King was allowed to continue doing business, but it’s limited to its existing market, which is a 20-mile radius around the restaurant. Burger King franchises can be everywhere else in the United States and the original Burger King can’t expand beyond the 20-mile boundary.

If you have a small business and you have plans to expand, you want to be the first to register your trademark, because if you don’t, you might find yourself being boxed into a limited area if your competition registers the mark. Even if you don’t have plans to expand much, you want the ability to take advantage of a golden growth opportunity if it comes along. If your competition registers their mark first, you might find yourself in a situation where you have to change your name and rebrand yourself to be able to expand your business.

New businesses put hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars in branding themselves. Ideally, you should decide what you want your trademark to be, check the USPTO to make sure no one is using your desired trademark, and consult a trademark attorney about registering the mark for your business. You may not be growing by leaps and bounds today, but you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where that’s not possible for you or only an option if you spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars rebranding yourself.