For a lot of small businesses and startups, there’s just not a lot of money to go around. So when that business is looking to make payroll, get a minimum viable product out the door, or just keep the lights on, spending money registering multiple trademarks with the US Patent and Trademark Office just isn’t an option. In that situation, the question I always get is this: do I register my logo or my company name? The answer is almost always going to be your company name, for a handful of reasons.
Why do you need to ask the question?
The reason that the question comes up is because your logo and your company name are two separate things in the world of trademark, and they require two separate filings. When you register your company name, it’s considered a “standard character mark” and what you’re protecting is just the name itself, completely separate from any font, coloring, or other styling. In other words, you’re preventing someone from using your name in their business, in any regard.
When you register your logo, you’re getting protection over the exact shape, orientation, stylization, and sometimes colors in that logo. Your company name may or may not be a part of the logo, but ultimately what you’re preventing others from using is your logo, or something that looks confusingly similar, not your name.
So why not register both? For most who have to make the choice, it’s a matter of dollars. At a minimum, each registration is going to cost you $275.00 in filing fees with the USPTO ($375.00 if you can’t use the TEAS Plus application). If you want to protect your mark for use with more than one kind of goods or services (classes), you’ll need to pay that filing fee for each class. All that is before you even start to talk about attorney’s fees and trademark search fees, which can easily total between $500 and $1500 per registration. Of course, if you can afford it, go ahead and do both.
With that in mind, if you have to choose, why register just the name?
Your Logo Isn’t That Good
This is a tough one to swallow for a lot of small businesses and startups, because more often than not, you’re a do-everything entrepreneur and you made the logo. All of my logos have been self-made, and I’ve devoted way too much time to doing it. I’ve been invested in them, and continue to be. But even I’ve got to admit that I’m no professional, and when push comes to shove, there’s nothing revolutionary about my logo.
All of which is to say, it’s very unlikely that the logo you start out with is going to be your logo forever, or even for very long. Even if your logo is brand new and professionally designed, as a new business chances are that if someone decided to infringe on your trademark, the better business decision would be to just come up with a new logo and build some brand equity in it rather than pay to litigate. If it wouldn’t make sense for you to pay to litigate an infringement, it doesn’t make sense to pay to register.
Your Company Name Offers More Protection
The quality of your logo and the cost of enforcing a trademark are practical considerations that militate against registering just your logo. The primary legal consideration is this: your company name offers quite a bit more protection.
As I said above, when you register your logo, you’re getting protection just over that exact representation of your brand, and that protection doesn’t typically extend to the actual name of your company, even if it’s included in the logo. When you register your name, you can effectively prevent others in your commercial space from using your name, or anything confusingly similar. Your name is protected regardless of what kind of styling is added to it or how it’s presented to consumers. It’s the words themselves that are protected.
When you register a trademark, the reason for doing so is to prevent others from ripping off your brand, and give you better recourse against them if they do. If you registered just your logo, which probably has less brand recognition for your startup or small business than your actual name anyways, you’d only get the protective benefit of registration if someone used that same logo, or something similar. By registering your company name, you get that recourse against anyone that infringes on your company name, however used. If your logo has your company name in it, your company name registration can even help you prevent others from using that logo (that’s a two-fer). Important to note as well, the lion’s share of infringement occurs online now (insert made up statistic here), and most of that infringement is going to take the form of text, i.e. your company name, whether in meta tags, links, or anything else.
So to conclude, if you’ve got to choose between registering your logo and your company name, go for the company name. It’s the more important asset, and registering it will get you the most protection.