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How To Look Up Your Financial Trademark in 10 Easy Steps

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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.

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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 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.

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

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  1. I could not agree more! Having come from the banking world where trademark protection is routinely taught and practiced, I was surprised to find that so many credit unions are quite cavalier in their approach to naming.

    There are two very basic phases to choosing a name and they’re both surprisingly specialized( which is why the advice of using a firm with experience in name selection should be well-considered).

    First, you have to choose a name or moniker that is applicable to your organization or your product. Does it apply? Will the reader readily be able to pronounce it? Is it too regional or culturally-based? And then there are the psychological ramifications. What image does it conjure up in the reader’s mind? Are there any potential unintended connotations? Lots to consider.

    At the same time all the legal issues Jeffry noted above still apply. Once you have selected a name (or short list of candidates) they must be “cleared” by your legal staff. And here is where I highly recommend the help of a competent trademark attorney. While no one may be using the name you have in mind, you may have inadvertently chosen a name that comes close enough to a protected brand that confusion may arise. And if that confusion is with another brand having deep pockets on the legal side, prepare to receive a cease and desist letter right away. Again, a very costly situation.

    A quick search on the USPTO’s site should always be your first stop. I don’t even suggest any new name to my boss before doing a cursory Web search and a PTO search using TESS.

    Great advice.

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