I'm opening an Etsy shop and also have a website that uses the same name. I've had both for several months, along with another similar name I've been using for a few years now. I'd like to protect the logo I designed and use it for both businesses. For now I have a California seller's permit just using my first and last name. But it seems that since I intend to build a brand around my businesses, I may need to register both business names in California and also with the U.S. government. I'm a little wonky on how this process works and need to figure out where to start and what I'm supposed to do. I would be disappointed to learn that my nice logo has already been registered, or worse yet that someone swoops in and copies it, registers it, and then demands that I cease using it. Thanks!
Well, as an individual doing business, there is nothing to prevent you from taking things into your own hands and filing and seeking to prosecute one or more federal trademark applications, as well as doing other pertinent registrations. There is a lot of information available without cost, if you know where to look and want to spend your time searching for it. So all you'd "need" to do is to learn the ropes and hope you get it right.
Yes, just learning to search the various sources of trademark information is a serious task, particularly because in the U.S., federal trademark rights exist concurrently with trademark law as applied in the various states, the latter including not only registrations but also rights that develop pursuant to principles of common law through actual usage.
Alternatively, you could choose to engage an attorney who's experienced in trademarks and working with business startups, whose job will include helping you avoid pitfalls that the uninitiated sometimes fall into. It's up to you to decide how to invest your limited startup funds. But you get by with a little help from your friends, and one trusted advisor should be such an attorney.
Your brand will be an important asset for your business's success and growth and therefore your decision to protect it early on, is smart on your part. Many businesses fail to see the importance in their intellectual properties until it is too late/complicated and quite costly. You can take proactive and cost-effective measures now to set a solid foundation to avoid any complicated legal issues in the future and protect your brand.
Although, you can go at it without the assistance of an attorney, it is always best/ wise to seek the advice and assistance of a business/intellectual property attorney for these types of matters. A CA seller's permit does not offer Intellectual Property protection for one's brand. If you are not currently represented by an attorney and wish to discuss this matter, you can reach me at (424) 270-0061 or at email@example.com for a free consultation. Thank you,
No, you do not need an attorney to register your business or trademark. The USPTO has an excellent online process and help menu. However, protecting your brand name is no something to fool around with and, as you point out, you do not want to be blindsided later on. Going with a knowledgeable attorney who can do the job cost efficiently is recommended.
Are You Planning on Opening a New E-Commerce Website?
There is much you need to know as you begin your new business. I suggest you do not attempt to write your own legal policies. This is not where your training and background lie, and though you are probably as smart as an attorney, you do not have their experience.
Below is a checklist for legal issues I use for new e-commerce clients.
1. Business Model – Is your idea viable as a web based business?
2. Business entity - Are you going to be a C corp, an LLC or a sole proprietorship?
3. Terms of Service - This is your contract with your visitors and is the most important item for any e-commerce site. A little work here brings big dividends in the future.
5. FTC guidlines - The FTC has been regulating business advertising for almost a century. All of their advertising guidlines apply to e-commerce sites.
6. Domain Name issues? Is your name available. Can you create a Trademark?
7. Trademark - Do you have a brand name free from conflict? Should you start with just common law rights? Should you register the mark, and when?
8. Copyright - If it is on the web, it already belongs to somebody. Did you buy a license for the images you are using? Do you have a DMCA notice on your web site?
9. Do you need a DMCA policy?
10. Web Site security issues?
11. Do you need and have an EIN? You can get that for free.
12. Do you have employees? - If so you need written policies regarding their authority and use of the internet.
13. Do you know the difference between a "browser wrap" and a "click wrap" and which do you need?
When I discuss this list with clients other issues arise. Finally, I always discuss with my clients their need for good accounting services. An accountant's advice as you start up can save you many dollars in tax that you might not save if you wait to speak to an accountant until your first tax return is due.
I hope this list will give you pause to think about those issues for which you might need to seek professional advice.
You may want to discuss your situation with a lawyer in more detail. Most lawyers on Avvo, including myself, offer a free phone consultation.
Andrew M. Jaffe
Attorney at Law
Practice Limited to E-Commerce and Internet Law
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