Should I tweak my existing brand, add a DBA, or change it altogether?
When you are looking to rebrand your business, you have options. Whether you should tweak your existing brand, add a "Doing Business As" (DBA), or change it altogether requires looking at your goals for your rebranding.
Making a small change, or tweak, to your existing branding may not require nearly as much paperwork. This could be something as small as a font change for your logo, a new slogan, or a full redesign of your website or storefront. Keep in mind that you may need to update or get new trademarks.
If your business needs a larger change, registering a DBA name may accomplish that goal. A DBA is a name a business uses in dealings with the public that is different from the corporation's legal name. If your business already has trademarks registered, contracts executed, a large following, or significant assets under its legal name, then it may make more sense to register a DBA with the appropriate state or local government entity. Before going this route, you should check to make sure the DBA name is not already affiliated with another company or brand. Most states offer a searchable, online directory that you can use for a business name search.
The most thorough option is to change the name of your business legally. To change the name of your business, you will need to file an Articles of Amendment with your respective state to request the name change. If registered in other states, then you may need to file an Articles of Amendment in each state. Once approved, your business can officially change its name. However, you may need to complete a number of additional steps before your business is ready to operate under its new legal name.
Is it worth the effort to change my business name?
If you are on the fence about changing your business name, or rebranding, you may want to consider your expected return on that investment. Ask:
- What will the business gain by having a new name?
- How much time will it take to accomplish?
- How much will it cost?
It may be a good idea to conduct some market research on how your customers will respond to the new name or branding.
After registering a DBA or filing Articles of Amendment, and the new name is approved by the state, you may need to:
- Change the name on bank accounts or possibly open new ones.
- Transfer licenses and permits issued by city, local, and county governments.
- Notify the Internal Revenue Service about the name change, and determine whether your business needs a new Employer Identification Number (EIN).
- Review contracts and provide notice of the name change to customers and vendors for active contracts.
A new EIN may not be required when only changing the business name by amending the original organizational documents. You may opt to change your business name by creating a new business entity for your new brand. Doing so, however, will likely require reassigning your contracts to the new entity, selling or transferring the assets, obtaining a new EIN, and more.
How should I manage my trademark portfolio?
Some businesses are all about branding and can amass a rather large collection of trademarks and copyrights. A well-managed trademark portfolio requires diligence and attention to detail.
Start by identifying all existing trademarks in your portfolio. Then, you may want to catalog the various design codes for your trademarks. A design code is a six-digit number used to classify and search for design elements in a trademark. These codes are stored in a federal database that can help you to identify other trademarks that may be too similar to yours.
Since trademarks expire, it is a good idea to keep track of their expiration dates and stay on top of renewals. You never know when a licensing deal may arise for your brand, so it is best to stay prepared. And whenever you register new trademarks, be sure to add them to your trademark portfolio management system.
How do I protect my new brand?
A registered trademark offers a significant level of protection for your brand and business. To register and trademark your brand name with the USPTO, you will need to file an application, which has 10 components. Once you have completed the online application, you will need to file it with TEAS Plus or TEAS Standard and pay the required fees. Once approved, a trademark is considered registered, and becomes valid for as long as you use it and can prove to the USPTO that you have been using it. By registering your brand's trademarks, you gain more rights to use and protect them.
After you register your trademarks, keep an eye out for trademark infringement. Monitor the competitive landscape for any businesses using a logo or brand that bears a striking resemblance to yours. Courts determine trademark infringement on a case-by-case basis. The similarity of the trademarks and whether the businesses are competitors can often be the most important factors. If you believe another business is using your trademark, or one that is confusingly similar, you may want to start with a Cease and Desist Letter.
How do I protect my brand online?
The key to a strong online presence for your brand is an effective collection of digital assets. Protecting your online branding and those digital assets, however, takes planning and patience.
Registering your trademarks and copyrights can make recovering social media accounts that you did not create bearing your business's name or branding easier. After receiving a well documented legal notice of a trademark or copyright violation, social media website owners will usually remove content from their sites.
If you find others using your digital assets, you will have more legal rights to stop it if your digital assets are properly registered. This area of law can get complicated, so you may want to ask a lawyer about your best course of action.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.