Patent a name, or is it a trademark?


There are 3 main categories of intellectual property: copyright, trademark, and patents. When someone is looking to “patent a name” they most likely mean they are looking to protect the name itself as a brand, which would be a trademark.

  • Patent: protects new or novel ideas (gadgets, gizmo, new type of umbrella)
  • Copyright: protects artistic works fixed in a tangible medium (screen plays, books, mp3s, paintings).
  • Trademark: protects any unique identifier in relation to goods/services (names of businesses, brands, slogans, logos, signifying color (like Tiffany Teal), or sound (like ESPN’s dun-uh-dun, dun-uh-dun).

How do I patent a name?

You can’t.  But you can trademark a name.  Again, trademarks protect a name associated with a good or service.

  • Common law usage: just start using the name in commerce.  Once used, you’ve established common law rights.  Common law trademark rights attach once a business uses a name in relation to their goods/services (essentially when it opens).  Common law trademark rights are based on prior use in a geographic location and issued via state statutes.  If you’ve opened a clothing store in Newport, RI called MYSTORE and you were the first to use the name in relation to those services you will automatically retain common law rights, via state statutes, to the geographic area in which consumers recognize your trademark.
  • State trademark registration: you’ll need to apply through your state’s Secretary of State Office. This will give you state protection, and ability to sue for statutory damages based on state code.
  • Federal trademark registration: US federal trademark registration protects your trademark nationwide.  Not only does this protect you from US businesses but also protects you from foreign businesses looking to sell their goods/services in the US.

But seriously, what if I file to patent a name?

So if I file to patent a name with the USPTO what happens? You can’t. In order to file a patent, you’ll need various claims and drawings of the invention. You will know you are in the wrong place once you get to the form submission. If filed, it would definitely get rejected.

What is the difference between patent and trademark?

Trademark is what you seek. Trademark is going to protect the name nationwide, and prevent anyone from using something similar. Most likely you’ll want to file a standard character mark. Standard character trademarks allow the applicant to register the word(s) of a trademark in any design, style, capitalization, or font. It’s the broadest type of trademark protection that the U.S. allows. Essentially, it’s a claim to the word itself and will prevent other registrations of confusingly similar sounding trademarks regardless of design.

Again patents protect ideas, gizmos, new technology.

  • Trademark = Brand name
  • Patent = New idea

Okay, how should I trademark a business name?

While you can’t patent a business name, you can trademark a business name. The best practice is to hire a trademark lawyer to file the trademark on your behalf.  In fact, you will increase your odds of a successful federal trademark registration by doing so.  If willing to risk it, you can also file the trademark on your own behalf by filing through the USPTO database. You can find the online filing system here: USPTO Trademark Filing System.