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I have a fair working knowledge of copyright law and trademarks, but I'm not certain how business or company names are protected. If I apply to have "Spincity" designated a trademark in a particular class, then no one else can use "Spincity" to market clothing, for example.

So the only way to completely own or monopolize "Spincity" would be to register it for all classes.

So here's my question: How do I protect the name of my business or company?

For example, if the name of my company is "SkyRiver," does simply registering it with Washington's secretary of state prevent other people from creating a company with the same name in other states or countries? If not, could I protect it by incorporating it, or creating an LLC?

Even if I'm able to protect SkyRiver as a company name, my understanding is that other people could still adopt SkyRiver as a trademark (I think). I don't want people who register SkyRiver as a trademark to somehow impinge on my company name.

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You can't register a trademark in all classes, you can only register in the classes you actually use the name in trade. If you register the trademark in one state then you only have the statutory benefits for registering the trademark in that state. However, you'd also have protections of a unregistered trademark in other states where you're actually using the trademark, as well as other common law countries. That is, assuming someone else doesn't have a better prior claim on the trademark in those markets.

The name your company is officially incorporated with is essentially irrelevant. All that matters is the name your company actually does business with. To protect against other businesses registering your trademark you either need to register it yourself, or to challenge the other business' application or registration within the minimum time period.

More generally to protect your business' trademark you need to:

  • keep using the mark in trade
  • ensure that your trademark doesn't infringe on someone else's
  • challenge anyone who significantly infringes your trademark
  • if registered, file paperwork as necessary to renew he registration on certain anniversaries.
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