Although the Redskins will certainly be playing next season, the team could be walking onto the field with an entirely different name. They suffered a major blow when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled six of the team’s federal trademark registrations. The tribunal found that the term “redskins” was derogatory to Native Americans when the trademarks were registered, making the trademarks invalid because the term was deemed a racial slur. Although the team can still use the name Redskins, without trademark protection, other companies or individuals could use the name and logo with less fear of repercussion- which could involve a big hit to the team's bottom line. While the team will most likely appeal the Board’s decision, the potential loss is staggering.
Companies live or die by their names - a well-known name opens the door to consumer recognition and the accompanying market. As a business owner, picking a good name and keeping control of it is an essential step to your success. If you haven’t yet chosen a name, there are resources online that can help you check what names are still available. You want something simple and memorable, but choosing a name is only the first step in the process. When you register a company, common law trademark rights arise on the first use within either a product category or geographic market. However, getting your trademark registered is still a good move, since common law rights are limited to the area in which the name is used, and registration provides protection in case of legal challenges (and also helps make sure you aren’t open to charges for infringing on another company!). The Board’s decision regarding the Redskins’ name removes only their federal trademark protections, but without federal protection, there is no guarantee products bearing the trademark will be stopped.
There are several non-legal steps you should also take to make sure your name is protected. Let’s say you are just starting a company, you have your name, and are considering next steps-- an often overlooked task is to make sure you have control over your name on the internet. Make sure some other company/individual doesn’t own your idea URL (and make sure to avoid any awkward crossovers with other companies). But you aren’t done there - make sure to snag up your name on social media sites-- controlling your Twitter handle and Facebook page are all worthwhile ventures, and should only take a couple of minutes.
Once your company is set up with a unique web name, Twitter tag and Facebook page, set your calendar for an annual task--renewing your website domain. All too often someone forgets to renew a website domain, and the cost to rebuy the same name has skyrocketed. Online recognition is an important part of any business owner’s strategy and this simple mistake that has cost many a company a great deal of money, as well as web traffic.
If you would like to discuss any legal issues regarding your Montgomery County, Delaware County or Philadelphia County business, please contact Sallen Law, LLC.