IP Tech Knowledgy
Corporate Names are Irrelevant, and Relevant, to Trademarks
An entity’s official corporate name is independent of the name the company uses in the marketplace as a trademark -- with one twist.
A corporate name is an entity’s official name as filed with its state of formation. A trademark is a brand an entity uses to identify its goods and services. Because these purposes are different, a state corporate filing does not give an entity priority over use of a later adopted trademark. If the entity uses the same words for its corporate name as its brand, it is only the trademark usage which is relevant to a trademark infringement analysis.
Each state has its own rules for approving corporate names, and how close each name can be to another. For example, the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) regulations dictate that a corporation and an LLC can have the same exact name, so long as their “tail” indicating the type of entity is different, such as “Inc.” and “LLC.” On the other hand, SDAT regulations do not allow the same name to be used within the same type of entity. If an entity already exists as Zebra, Inc., SDAT will not allow formation of Zebra Incorporated, Limited, or Company, or any abbreviation of those tails.
Although a corporate name generally does not bear on a trademark, if the entity would like its corporate name to match its brand, it needs to be sure – in states with regulations similar to Maryland’s – that its state of formation has not already granted the name to the same type of corporate entity.
Ned T. Himmelrich
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