Why should I spend all this money on registering a trademark? Isn’t my domain name enough?
Short answer: because it’s cool to own stuff.
Your brand tells your customers where your products (and services) come from. In the minds of your customers, your brand is you. Artful brand selection fortifies market recognition. Pick a forgettable brand and risk obscurity.
Wise companies select brands that are distinctive and not easily confused with the existing brands of competitors. Stronger brands tend to be those that are arbitrary or fanciful as compared to the goods or services they identify (e.g., Apple computers). Weaker brands tend to be those that are descriptive of the goods and services they identify (e.g., Apple orchards). The purpose of a brand and, consequently, the purpose of trademark protection, is to avoid consumer confusion as to the source of goods and services. So being unique helps.
Trademark rights flow from actual use of the brand in commerce. One obtains common law trademark rights merely by using the brand to identify goods and services in the marketplace when advertising or offering the product or service for sale. Common law trademark rights only extend geographically to the local region in which the holder has actual sales or significant market contacts or activity.
So if you don’t register your trademark, you can still sue folks who might confuse your customers with a similar mark, but only in places where you actually have customers.
With a federal trademark registration, however, you’ll enjoy exclusive rights to the brand across the entire United States. Registration gives constructive notice throughout the United States that you have enforceable rights in the registered mark. Finally, you can file your federal registration with US Customs to prevent importation of infringing goods.
Corporate name reservation with the secretary of state is important to secure the name of your company in a ministerial sense with your state regulators. Domain name registration is important to obtain access to a meaningful and recognizable web address. But neither of these activities ensures that you own your brand name. To own a brand as strongly as possible, a federal trademark registration is preferred.
Obtaining federal trademark registration constitutes a stronger form of ownership than reliance upon common law. Trademark registration illustrates to investors, customers, and competitors that you take a serious view of asset protection and also of your company’s position in the marketplace.
Finally, you can’t sell what you don’t own. If you wish to maintain a high apparent value to investors and acquirers, consider registering your brand as a trademark.