Do It Now While You Still Can
by Sue Basko, esq.
Why The Beatles is a great band name. Why Death Cab for Cutie is not.
It is much easier and much less expensive to register trademark on your band or singer name or the name of your creative business in a timely way than it is to wait and fight off someone else's use or registration of the same or a similar name. Registering trademark is a complex process that, when it goes smoothly, takes about a year to two years to complete.
Starting the trademark process in a timely way is so important. If you stall and someone else claims the name, the amount of work and the cost involved can be so great that, unless you are wealthy, you are often best off picking a new name. Battles over contested trademarks can go on for ten years.
I STRONGLY recommend that you have an experienced lawyer do your trademark registration for you. I strongly recommend you do not try this yourself. It is complicated.
State Trademarks? Most states have some form of trademark registration. I think these are almost useless because they do not protect the name outside the state. In this age of the internet and multistate businesses, it is most useful to have a federal trademark, which is good in all 50 states. Some federally-registered trademarks are potentially valid in many nations, based on the U.S. participation in the Madrid Protocol, a set of treaties that create worldwide intellectual property through an organization called WIPO, World Intellectual Property Organization. To make a long story really short - I consider state trademark registrations to be a waste of time and money. If you have a trademark worth protecting, have an experienced lawyer register it for you as a U.S. trademark. I do these registrations and I can tell you it is not ground to tread upon unassisted.
Picking a Name: Not all names can be trademarked. A lawyer can help you determine if the name you have chosen is likely to pass muster. One of the basics is that you should choose a name that is unique. Google and see - if you find other bands or other businesses using the same name, choose a different name. Pick a name that is yours only.
Also, pick a name that is not the name of something else. Pick a name that is not the name of a store, a book, a movie, a character, a product, a game, -- and on and on.
The ideal trademark word is not a real word. It is a made-up word that is created specially for your product or service. Examples: Kleenex, Napster, Macbook, Ipod.
Example of a Great Band Name: The Beatles. It does not get any better than this, trademark-wise. "Beatle" is not a word, and yet it conveys the musical notion of "beat" and turns it into a noun. It also is short, easy to remember, and easy to pronounce. It does not sound foolish. Paul McCartney was a Beatle. Ben Gibbard is a Death Cab for Cutie? The Beatles name was a great branding decision from the get-go, and nearly 50 years later, the trademark's power is equally as strong. Bands today could learn from that lesson of long ago. In fact, the words "death cab for cutie" come from a Beatles' movie and so that band will probably never be able to trademark even its own name. Aside from this, of course, no one is ever going to buy their child a Death Cab for Cutie lunchbox or backpack.
Apple Corps Limited of the United Kingdom owns dozens of trademarks on The Beatles, Beatles, etc. Many Beatles tribute shows, radio shows playing only Beatles music, products, etc., have attempted to register trademarks that use the word "Beatles." Through the application process, they have been stopped. Why? Because Beatles is a registered trademark owned by Apple Corps, and if any other business wants to use the trademark, even a business that is about the music of The Beatles, they cannot do so unless they get permission and license to do so from Apple Corps. And then, they will not be getting a trademark, but a license to use the words from the owner of the trademarks, which is Apple Corps.
Good Trademarks Build Empires: If you have a solid name that can be trademarked and is trademarked, you can build an empire upon this. It can grow into products of all sorts. The list of Beatles products is almost endless. Conversely, if you insist on choosing a band or business name that infringes on someone else's trademark, or that cannot be trademarked for any reason, then you limit your possibilities.
Mark Zuckerberg and his band of Merry Lawyers fought like mad dogs to trademark the words Facebook, Face, FB, and even the color of blue they somehow think is so distinctive. They know the value of trademark. Try calling your website Face-anything and you will get a love note from the Facebook lawyers telling you to cease and desist.
For more info on trademark, please read: