Opening a restaurant? One of the most important steps you should take is obtaining a trademark for your restaurant’s name. After all, a name is closely associated with identity and one of the most critical distinctions from your competition. With this in mind, here are five things new restaurant owners need to know about trademarks.
1. Trademark your restaurant’s name before the logo.
If budgetary constraints prevent you from obtaining trademarks for both name and logo at the same time, register the trademark for the name first, following up with the logo and other graphical elements when finances allow.
Some operators assume it’s okay to register the trademark for their restaurant’s name within its logo. Not so. Registering a logo only protects your restaurant’s name in that particular form — not in plain text. Additionally, if you were to change your logo later, you’d need to invest more time and money to file an entirely new trademark application.
2. Choose your restaurant’s name wisely.
Avoid generic or simply descriptive names, and opt for something more distinctive. The former are far less likely than the latter to qualify for trademark approval. For example, if you’re opening a café, you’d have a better chance to obtain a trademark for the name “Cafelicious” or “Café Society” than for the name “California Café” or “The Café.”
3. Hire a professional.
It’s well worth the money to engage a trademark attorney who can access common law trademark databases that contain data not stored by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). By performing a regional or national search of these databases, your attorney will be able to advise you of whether your proposed trademark is already taken. He or she will also tell you if it’s distinctive enough to stand out from trademarks used by your potential competitors, as well as help you to avoid any trademark search and application pitfalls.
4. Understand that trademark registration differs from incorporation.
Contrary to what some aspiring restaurant owners assume, filing incorporation papers for a restaurant doesn’t automatically extend some type of trademark protection for its name. Yes, your incorporation request will be denied if you apply to incorporate your restaurant using the same name as an establishment that already exists in your state. But an approved state incorporation request doesn’t give you free and clear rights to the business name; it simply prevents other businesses in your state from incorporating with the same name.
5. Maintain tight control in social media channels.
Even if you don’t intend to actively promote your restaurant via social media, it’s critical to maintain control over social media pages that are registered with your trademark. Otherwise, customers may become confused, and another restaurant may co-opt your customer base.
For best results, register your restaurant’s trademarked name as the social media handle on the pages or accounts of any social media sites (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram) you use. If you discover that another entity maintains an account and a page that utilizes your trademark name, reclaiming that page shouldn’t entail more than sending a letter requesting its return. However, don’t take any legal action before consulting your attorney.
Securing a trademark for your restaurant name (and logo) can go far toward protecting the integrity of your brand, in turn fostering your success. Keeping the abovementioned information in mind before and after the trademark procurement process will allow you to maximize the benefits only a trademark can provide.