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Protecting Your Business Name

Della had a really clever new business idea and a clever name to go with it. She searched the state business registry and… sweet relief! No one else was using her coveted name. She also used her extraordinary Googling skills to search every nook and cranny of the internet and again, her prized name was nowhere to be found. Excitedly, Della registered her business name in Oregon and forged ahead to get her fledgling business venture off the ground.

A mere week into her life as a small business owner, Della opened her mail and was uncomfortably confronted with a “cease and desist” letter from a disgruntled business owner, Perry, who, surprisingly, had a business with a name shockingly similar to her own. The letter explained that Perry, who was doing business in California, had a federally registered trademark, and that his rights to the name were superior to hers and if she didn’t stop using the business name immediately, he would sue her, she would have to pay big bucks, and life would generally be miserable for her.

Della was despondent. She didn’t even think about checking the trademark database. She didn’t understand the great powers and protection that comes with having your business name trademarked. What ever would Della do?

This little anecdote illustrates not only the importance of carefully vetting your business name (as last month’s article discussed), but also the issues an owner can run into in trying to protect their business name. So how do you ensure that your name, once carefully selected, is effectively protected?

Well, you go see a lawyer of course.

Your lawyer will be able to help determine what level of protection your business needs. It may be that simply registering your name with the state’s business registry is enough – not only is it a legal requirement, but it also puts the world on notice that you intend to do business as your chosen name. It may be that your business name is so incredibly unique and your business has such incredible growth potential that registering either a state or a federal trademark may be the way to go. Each situation is unique, just like your business name…

There’s a lot of help available at the Oregon Secretary of State website, including the “Oregon Start a Business Guide,” http://sos.oregon.gov/business/Documents/business-guides/start-business-guide.pdf but if you still need guidance, we are here to help. And Della if you’re out there, we can help you too.

Sarah Vaile is an associate attorney with the Law Office of Robert Good, specializing in estate planning and administration and business law, and has practiced law in Jackson County for eight years. Contact her at (541) 482-3763.

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