There are thousands of financial institutions across North America who leave some of their most valuable assets virtually unprotected. We’re talking about their trademarks — things like names, logos, slogans, products, etc.
Here’s a step-by-step process for searching the United States Patent & Trademark Office’s online trademark database to see if a name is federally protected. It takes less than 5 minutes. Every financial institution with a halfway unique name or slogan should do this immediately.
There’s a printable version of the how-to guide here on page 2. There’s also a handy reference guide for all 45 of the USPTO’s “International Classes” in case you want to look up a trademark in another industry.
The most common mistakes financial institutions make happens when they change names. All too they make a costly error — one that can be easily avoided: they pick a new name that someone else in the financial industry has already federally trademarked. Time, energy, delays and headaches. All wasted. Lawyers and lawsuits. Very expensive.
If you’re considering a name change, you need to screen every name in the USPTO database using this tool first, before you fall in love with it. If another financial institution has a live trademark on that name, you’re basically out of luck, even if they’re on the opposite side of the continent.
Reality Check: If you’re looking for a name that’s available in the financial industry, good luck. Presently, there are 247,078 live trademarks in the financial industry. Most of the names you’re going to look-up at the USPTO website will already be taken. (When the URL allthegoodnamesaretaken.com is taken, you know it’s hard coming up with something new. This is where an experienced naming firm can help.)
If you want to read about pain and suffering, The Financial Brand has a number of cautionary tales about financial trademark pitfalls.
Bottom Line: If you think you’re safe because you’ve had your name for a hundred years, you’re wrong. If you think having to change names once is expensive, think about how much it costs to change names twice, after you lose a trademark lawsuit. And if you don’t think it’s important to trademark other assets like your ad slogans, think again. Bookmark this page. Someday it could save you a boatload of money.
- Do your due diligence. It’s so easy, there’s no excuse.
- While the USPTO’s online search tool is a great first step, it is no substitution for the guidance and insight of an experienced trademark attorney.
- Don’t forget to check your local phone book.
- And do a Google Search while you’re at it.