A registered name is a title under which a person operates their business. Your restaurant’s name can be registered at the county, state and/or federal level. Registering your restaurant name establishes your business’s legitimacy and protects your brand and concept from would be infringers.
Search Your Operating Area
Before you register your business’s name, you will want to conduct an extensive search in your anticipated trading area. Your trading area is the geographic region in which you will be conducting business, whether it is a city, county, state or nation. The search will turn up any other restaurants operating within the same area whose names may be confusingly similar to yours. For example, if you want to name your restaurant McDonald’s Rib Shack, most likely a search for that name will turn up the popular fast-food chain, so you will have to select another name. If you try to register the name anyway, you will either be rejected or face an infringement lawsuit once McDonald’s catches wind of your operation.
How to Register Your Restaurant’s Name
Depending on the state in which you operate, registering your restaurant’s name is done at either the state or county level. Usually, when you file tax forms to establish your business (with your Secretary of State or local Chamber of Commerce), you register your business name at the same time. If you want to expand to other states, you will need to register your business name in each separate state.
Registration for Partnerships or Sole Proprietorships
In the registration process, sole proprietors and partnerships will declare a business owner, and if your business name is something other than your name (John Doe’s Chicken Shack as opposed to just John Doe’s), you will have to “assume” the business name. Assuming the business name means that for legal purposes, the restaurant and the owner(s) are one and the same. This makes the owner(s) personally responsible for the any debts the business incurs.
Registration for Corporate Restaurants
Corporations file articles of incorporation. This document includes the business name, who the owners are and rules on governing and managing the corporation. Corporations are separate entities from the owners, though. The owners are not personally liable for the profits and losses of the business, so the owners do not need to “assume” the business name. Many corporations start out as small, privately owned companies, but as they grow, the owners incorporate to protect their personal assets.
Where to Register Your Restaurant’s Name
The first place to look if you want to register or even trademark your business name and/or logo is with your Secretary of State’s office. The Secretary of State will have information on all of the businesses registered in your trading area, and they may even have an online database available for you to search business names, to see if the one you want is already taken. The following table has links to all 50 Secretaries of State offices:
If you are planning to open more restaurants in different states or even to franchise your concept, you will want to trademark your business logo. Simply registering your business name only protects you at the county or state level. Trademarking is done on a federal level, and your logo and/or name are recorded in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This means you have all of the legal rights to market and reproduce your logo to increase your brand awareness. The process of trademarking usually takes about one year, and you will have to provide the following:
- A drawing of your mark. This can be either a photograph or sketch of the mark you want to protect.
- Samples of your mark. This includes samples of marketing materials or merchandise with your logo being used.
- Registration fees. Everything costs money, and the current rate for trademark registration ranges from $275 to $325.
To get the trademark process started you can either speak to a business lawyer or visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website for more information.
Penalties for Trademark Infringement
There are several legal remedies a trademark owner can take if they think another business is infringing upon their name or mark. The trademark owner can file documents with the courts prohibiting the infringer from using a similar mark or brand name. The owner can also sue the infringer for damages to their brand and company image, and the courts can also award the trademark owner enough money to cover any attorney’s fees incurred for bringing legal action against the infringer.