A few months ago, I served as a mentor for Breakthrough Weekend in which groups of students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha competed against each other based upon their presentation of their new business concept.  This particular event lasted a mere 54 hours, spread out over three days whereby efficiency and effective use of time was a critical factor in the competition.  As I was meeting with each of the teams and attempting to provide some guidance, one team was spending a significant amount of time on selecting a name for their business.  I was struck by the amount of time this particular team was devoting to the selection of their business name, particularly in light of the urgent deadline to complete their presentation.  My first impression was that the team should be working to refine their presentation and their evidentiary support for their proposed business concept, including the development of a minimally viable product, and not be as concerned with their business name.  It was my initial belief that Walmart, a relatively unimaginative name, or Zappos, a relatively unique name, would not be any more or less viable companies with different names. 

After some research on the topic, it turns out the name given to a business can, in fact, impact the ultimate success of the venture.  For example, the Society of Personal and Social Psychology, Inc. discovered stocks with easier to pronounce names outperformed those with names that are more difficult to pronounce.  It is believed that low processing fluency may leave an impression of unfamiliarity, which can translate to a feeling of danger according to the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan.  Consequently, a short, simple name which is easy to pronounce may reduce a barrier to success.  Furthermore, a short, simple name in which most people believe has a single spelling may be preferred to those names that may be susceptible to multiple spellings.  For example, a startup company aimed at bringing farm goods direct to customers could adopt a name such as PLOW.  However, that name could, alternatively, be spelled as PLOUGH, which may negatively affect search engine identification and brand acceptance. 

It is often the case that marketing professionals default to a descriptive name.  For example, a restaurant located in the downtown area of a city may choose to name their restaurant DOWNTOWN DINER.  This has an advantage of early assistance in marketing because there is an immediate connotation with respect to the types of goods and services provided by the business.  In the example of DOWNTOWN DINER, a consumer would readily know the business is a restaurant, and it is more than likely located in the downtown area of a city.  However, a descriptive name may be more difficult to market long term.  As an online presence is a key factor for businesses now, a descriptive name may not be as useful in establishing a distinct online presence.  For example, an online search of “diners” and “downtown diners” may provide a number of search results which are competitors of the DOWNTOWN DINER restaurant. 

Another consideration in the selection of a name, and perhaps one of the most important considerations, is the ability to obtain a federal trademark registration for the name.   The best way to protect a name is to obtain a federal registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Registration provides exclusive rights to the owner of the mark and establishment of a priority date throughout the United States.

In order to obtain a federal registration of a name on the Principal Register, the name must be distinctive and must not create a likelihood of confusion with an existing trademark.  The requirement of distinctiveness may prevent a registration of descriptive mark such as DOWNTOWN DINER, another disadvantage of the use of a descriptive name.  In order to ensure a proposed name will not create a likelihood of confusion with an existing trademark, a trademark search should be performed on search engines and with the database of the USPTO.  The search should include the exact spelling of the proposed name, but should also include alternative spellings in order to adequately analyze possible marks which may cause confusion.  If a similar name exists, it may increase the likelihood that the registration will not be approved and use of that name may create a possibility of a trademark infringement allegation by an owner of a similar name.  Another benefit of a unique name is that it provides a greater likelihood of the domain name being available which is becoming more important in a world where an online presence is a necessity. 

Consequently, a short, simple name with a likely single spelling, which may be available for trademark registration, and not likely to cause confusion with existing marks, may improve the chances for business success. 

Suiter Swantz IP is a full-service intellectual property law firm, based in Omaha, NE, serving all of Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. If you have any intellectual property questions or need assistance with any patenttrademark, or copyright matters and would like to speak with one of our patent attorneys please contact us.