If you’re running a business, you likely already realize the importance of choosing and registering a unique business name. Your chosen name should be memorable to your customer base. But, it also should be available online. If your business name is already in use, customers will be confused. Even worse, you may find yourself on the receiving end of legal action.
But once your company is fully operational, there’s no guarantee some other business won’t use the same name. Not everyone will go to the same measures you did to verify that a name is unique before claiming it. Here’s how to prevent your name from theft, and what to do if it causes damage to your business.
Protect your business name.
Although your business name doesn’t have to be trademarked to have protection, it can make a big difference. Even though everyone won’t conduct a trademark and patent search, those who do will see that the name is taken and move on. If someone uses your name, showing proof that you’ve trademarked it could convince the business to choose something else. Most importantly, if you must go to court, you’ll have legal proof that you registered the name.
However, you don’t have to trademark your business name to protect it. Before you start accepting customers, you’ll be required to register your business with your local government, which will create a paper trail demonstrating that you owned the name as of a certain date. Even if a business in another state or country is using your name, that documentation will help you as you try to establish exclusivity.
When a similarly-named company confuses customers and threatens to harm your hard-earned reputation, it’s important to take action as quickly as possible.
In addition to legal protections, you should also create as broad an online presence as possible. This includes profiles on at least one or two social media platforms, as well as Google My Business, Yelp, and, of course, your own website. Few businesses will want to use a name if someone else will rank higher for that name in search results, even if they are located on the other side of the world.
Assess the damage.
Despite your best efforts, you may find another company using your business name. The first step is to assess the damage. Is the company a direct competitor? AAA Pest Control and AAA Plumbing can easily exist alongside each other. They may be in the same town or on the same street, without causing much confusion for customers. Let’s say the company is in the same industry but operates only locally. It still may not be an issue for businesses that aren’t in that city, unless they’re somehow intercepting customers online. Even if you’ve trademarked your business, you may not have an infringement case if the other business’s use of your name isn’t harming your business in some way.
What if the business using your name is in another country? Another company’s use of your name may only become a problem if you’re doing business in that area of the world. Some businesses fail to trademark their business names in other countries. By the time they realize they’re expanding, it’s too late. If you’ve been doing business in another area and someone else began using your name after the fact, you’ll still need to establish that they are, indeed, harming your ability to do business by sharing your name.
Once you’ve established that the duplicate use of your business name is bringing harm to your business, gather documentation. Pull your trademark papers or your business license registration, as well as any other paperwork that demonstrates the date you established your business under that name. Also keep any documentation that shows the harm your company is suffering as a result of this.
The earlier you can catch the duplicate name, the better. If the business is still in the early stages, a simple email or phone call alerting them to the slip-up could be sufficient. Chances are, the other business doesn’t want to compete with a company that is already established. However, your best next step may be to consult an attorney specializing in trademark law, even if your name isn’t officially trademarked. A legal professional may be able to simply send a “cease and desist letter” and resolve the issue.
In many cases, a business with a duplicate name won’t cause problems with your own customer base. However, when a similarly-named company confuses customers and threatens to harm your hard-earned reputation, it’s important to take action as quickly as possible to avoid permanent damage.
This article originally appeared on americanexpress.com.