Whether you’re responsible for the marketing function at a small, mom-and-pop business or a large, international conglomerate, understanding the differences between your trademarks and trade names—and how to leverage and protect them correctly—should be an important aspect of your corporate identity strategy.
Using trade names and trademarks properly:
- Strengthens your legal rights in your company and product/service names, helping you control how and where they’re used
- Reinforces your competitive position by conveying the quality and standards associated with your brand
- Identifies and positions your products and services as part of your corporate family
- Maintains the consistency and effectiveness of your total marketing efforts
Sometimes referred to as a corporate name, a trade name identifies a commercial corporation, company, association, firm, or other legal entity to the public. In other words, a trade name is an organization’s business name. It also can be called a DBA (doing business as) name.
A trade name doesn’t provide any legal protection or unlimited rights for the use of that name, but registering a trade name is an important step for some organizations.
Trademarks and Service Marks
A trademark is a distinctive word, symbol, slogan, logotype (logo), picture, device—or a combination of those items—that is used to identify and distinguish the products of one company from those of another. It also can be used to protect your trade name. In contrast, a service mark identifies a service instead of a product. However, it’s common practice to use the term “trademark” or “mark” to refer to either.
If you need to research or register a trademark or service mark, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office provides lots of great information and a number of online tools, including guidelines, videos, and other useful infornation. The U.S. Small Business Administration also provides a number of resources, such as this article about trade names and trademarks.
So Why Should You Care?
Your trade name and trademarks are likely the most important business assets you’ll ever have, as they distinguish your organization, products, and/or services in the marketplace. As a professional marketer, it’s vital to safeguard them. It doesn’t take that much time or money, and the ROI is immeasurable.
A final thought: “A great trademark is appropriate, dynamic, distinctive, memorable, and unique.” ~Primo Angeli