What’s in a Name?

Many business owners believe that by incorporating a business in Pennsylvania or registering a fictitious name, they have obtained protection for the company name. Unfortunately, this belief often proves to be a costly mistake. While incorporating or registering a name in Pennsylvania does prevent another person from registering the exact same name (in Pennsylvania), it does not prevent another person from using a confusingly similar name, or from registering the name in another state. In fact, simply incorporating or registering a fictitious name does not even ensure the registrant the right to publicly use the name in Pennsylvania or elsewhere.

Whether or not any given name may be used in connection with any particular good or service is a matter of trademark law. The federal trademark law, known as the known as the Lanham Act, governs the registration and use of trademarks in interstate commerce. Trademark law differs from the state laws that govern incorporation and fictitious name registration. If a party obtains a federal trademark, that party has the right to prevent others from using confusingly similar marks with respect to similar goods and services throughout the entire United States. Attorneys use the term “trademark” to refer to any design, word or combination of Words and designs, used in connection with the products or services of a business. Technically, the term “service mark” is used for designations of services, but a service mark is just one type of trademark. Trademark law is part of an area of law known as intellectual property, and is usually undertaken by attorneys who are registered to practice before the United States Patent Office.