More than Choosing a Cool Name
Article by Brian McMahon
Choosing a name for your business was once as simple as deciding on a “cool” or “unique” name and then checking the State of Michigan database to confirm it is available for use in Michigan. However, as with many other aspects of our lives, technology has had a big impact on naming your entity as well. Today, the first thing I recommend to clients when choosing a name for their business is first check to see if the web address (i.e. URL) is available. If it is, then check to see if it is available in the State of Michigan database and, if both are available, then immediately purchase the web address and file the articles of incorporation (for a corporation) or articles of organization (for a limited liability company).
It is critical in today’s business climate to have a web presence. A web presence not only allows potential customers to find you and get contact information, it is also one of the least expensive forms of marketing. Even if you don’t plan on having a web site right away or even if you plan on never having a web site at all, it is still critical to purchase the web address, if available. This way you will have the web address in case you change your mind down the road without having to worry about someone (e.g. a competitor, etc.) purchasing it before you get around to creating a web site; and even if you never put up a web page, at least no one else can use the name of your business in their web address.
Another reason to secure the web address for your business name is that it reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of being accused of trademark infringement. Owning the web address reduces the risk because it is very unlikely a company would go through the effort and cost to trademark a name without also owning the web address for the name. Today there are computer programs that trademark owners subscribe to that alert the owner any time the name is found to be in use anywhere in the world. As a result a business owner using a trademarked name, even if they have the business name properly registered in Michigan, can be required to cease and desist using that name under certain circumstances. If you are required to stop using the name, you will not only lose the ability to use the name, but also the money you spent marketing the name and the goodwill established while using the name up that point. Some business names are so generic, or so commonly used, it is not possible to obtain a trademark for the name. For that reason, sometimes a generic or commonly used name is the best way to avoid trademark issues. However, if you use a “cool” or “unique” name, i.e. one that is likely capable of being trademarked, additional due care in choosing a name for your business is required to avoid trademark infringement.
If you have questions regarding choosing a name, the continued use of your current name, or trademark issues, please feel free to contact me.