5 Legal Issues When Choosing a Business Name

Many people think that coming up with the name is the fun part, but there’s a lot of complicated business that goes on behind the scenes.

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There are legal issues regarding the name of your business, and you don’t want to find out after you’ve made up your mind and fallen in love that you can’t (or shouldn’t) use the name that feels like a dream come true.

Before you start doodling logo mock-ups on your pad of sticky notes, there are a few things you’ll need to ponder.

  1. Being Unique

Duplicate names need to be avoided. The business that has already registered the name effectively prohibits you from using it. The same goes for similar names.

If “Hank’s Winery” already exists, “Hank’s Winery and Tasting Room” is too similar. “Henry’s Handcrafted Wines” would convey a similar meaning without violating the property or image of another business.

Make sure there’s nothing else out there that already sounds like what you’re drafting up.

  1. Respecting Trademarks

Companies trademark their catchy slogans and taglines. Nike’s “Just Do It” is instantly recognized around the world, which might make “Do It Sportswear” sound like a brilliant idea. Nike’s lawyers won’t let you anywhere near the trademark.

Make sure your slogans, taglines, and business name don’t sound too similar to something already established and recognizable, even if you’re doing it in a tongue and cheek way.

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Nathan Fielder’s “Dumb Starbucks” tested the limits of how far parodying a brand name or trademark could go. Though most people found it to be hilarious and were easily able to make the distinction, it didn’t end well for him.

Starbucks contemplated legal action, and the shop quietly closed. Even if you’re making fun of a company’s trademark, your idea may not be protectable and the trademark can still be enforced.

  1. Don’t Step On Your Competitors

Say you live in a town that’s affectionately referred to by its locals as “Happy Valley”. If “Happy Valley Motorcycles” opens up down the street, it may be unwise to name your business “Happy Valley Pizzeria.”

Even though it’s a nickname of the location, the motorcycle company could argue that your name might give customers the impression that they’re behind your pizzas, and that you’re drawing in their crowd of bikers by creating a false association.

  1. Pick a Name You Can Protect

Vague names are difficult to protect. “Australian Surfboards” is a very broad name, and any company making surfboards in Australia could easily claim to be making Australian surfboards, and that’s where things get difficult.

They would win that battle, and everyone’s customers would be confused. “Bondi Beach Wavebreakers” would be much easier to protect because of the nuances it contains. If you’re worried that you may not be able to secure full protection on a name that sounds simple, you can always consult with a lawyer on the matter.

  1. Don’t Put Yourself in a Corner

You’re starting off small, and you love your hometown. You’d love to expand if you see the success you crave, but things might get a little complicated if you’re too specific with your name.

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Say your restaurant, The Forest’s Edge, becomes so profitable that you want to open one on the Brooklyn Shore. You aren’t going to find a forest there. Choose a name that will easily carry with you wherever you go if you decide to expand your horizons.

It’s much more difficult (from both a legal and a marketing perspective) to change your name after you’ve established yourself.

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Above all else, you’re going to be stuck with this name for a long time if things work out well for you. No matter what, be sure you’ve chosen a legally compliant name you could live with for generations if your business grows strong enough to carry your legacy.


Lucy Taylor is an avid blogger who enjoys sharing her tips and suggestions with her online readers. Working as a legal expert at LY Lawyers, Lucy often helps people dealing with legal problems, addictions and crime.


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