Names matter, even for a local business, but they matter a great deal for a Crowdfunding business, where your customers know you only from a distance.
Generally speaking you can choose three kinds of names:
- A name that describes what you do, e.g., Real Estate Crowdfunding Portal, LLC.
- A name with no inherent meaning, e.g., Xeta, LLC.
- A name somewhere in between, e.g., Lifelong Investments, LLC.
Each category has advantages and disadvantages:
- A name that describes what you do…well, it describes what you do. When a consumer sees the name she knows what you’re selling. On the other hand, a name that describes what you do is often not very memorable.
- The strongest names are those that start out with no inherent meaning. Amazon, Starbucks, E-Bay. When consumers think of Amazon they think about the gigantic online retailer, nothing else. The name is worth a billion dollars! On the other hand, Amazon had to spend more than a billion marketing dollars to give meaning to a name that otherwise belonged to a river.
- A name somewhere in between is somewhere in between. It might be sexier than a name that is merely descriptive and require a lot less marketing fuel than a name with no meaning, but with the associated disadvantages as well.
With two well-known Crowdfunding companies – Crowdentials and VerifyInvestors – we see two different approaches to choosing a name. And we can’t say for certain whether one is better than the other. That will depend on what each company does with its name.
Having chosen a name, how do you protect it?
To start with, a business acquires “common law” rights to a name merely by using it, without filing anything with the government and without involving lawyers. If another real estate Crowdfunding portal tried to use the Fundrise name today they couldn’t do it, even if the Miller brothers had never done anything to protect their name (they have).
Contrary to common belief, merely registering a company name with the state by forming a corporation or other entity provides no real protection. State filings are simply a matter of bureaucracy – the state wants to make sure that no two names are confusingly similar on its own records.
For the best protection, however, the business owner should obtain a Federal trademark from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A Federal registration provides important benefits, including:
- The registration constitutes “constructive notice” to all later users in all locations.
- The registration permits the owner to get an injunction against a trademark infringer and sue for damages, including profits, costs, treble damages and attorneys fees.
- The registration can strengthen the value of the name as a corporate asset.
- The registration demonstrates your right to use the name to the owners of other websites, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, which are often called on to “officiate” disputes over names.
The trademark application process normally takes about a year, assuming no significant problems. Once granted, a trademark registration can last forever if continuously used and renewed.
NOTE: Not every name can be trademarked. A name like “Real Estate Crowdfunding Portal,” which merely describes the product or service, probably cannot be registered by itself. But it might be registered with a distinctive logo.
Finally, don’t forget to acquire the domain name.
Questions? Let me know.