Next up? Choosing what to name your yoga studio, a process that can be as titillating--and as formidable--as deciding what to christen a child. It can also prove an absurd minefield if the name you choose is already employed by someone else running a yoga studio or similar business, so cultivate at least a working knowledge of trademark law beforehand.
"The name is crucial," explains attorney Paul Higgins of Sughrue Mion, a Washington, D.C.–based law firm that focuses on intellectual property and trademark law. "If you adopt a name and use it as a trademark or a service mark and it's already in use, you could be forced to change it, and possibly pay monetary damages. You don't want to start down a dead end in the beginning." Trademark and service mark rights arise out of use, so the first to use a brand has the right to prevent others from using it in a way that is likely to cause confusion.
To steer clear of any problems, Higgins suggests that when you hit upon a name that really sings, contact a trademark attorney. He or she can quickly and easily determine whether your trademark or service mark is available for use, and, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
If you can’t afford an attorney, there are many ways to perform your own investigative handiwork. Stop first at the site of a search engine such as Google, where you may quickly learn if anyone is using the same or a similar name for his or her own yoga studio or similar service. Another good idea is to visit domain name sites like that of Network Solutions.
If you don’t find anything online and no one has registered a domain that contains your desired name, your next move should be to visit the official site of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which will let you see for free whether anyone else has a federal registration or pending application with the same or a similar name for similar types of services. It's a step that can make or break you. If someone has registered the name and you use it and the mark owner sues you, you might be liable. Steep penalties could ensue.
Because not everyone registers trademarks with the federal government, visit your state’s trademark database, too, or visit a site such as Trademark.com, which scours trademarks and domains (.org, .com, and .net) registered in all 50 states. It will charge you $85 for the service, but it will cut out a lot of the legwork.
The good news is that once you find a usable name that you love, you can file online. Be warned, however: it costs $335 to register a trademark, the money is nonrefundable, and the federal trademark office often rejects applications for registrations based on what might seem like fuzzy reasoning to you. In short, if you can afford to consult with an attorney, you probably should. Says Jonathon Fields, a corporate lawyer-turned-yoga teacher and owner of two-year-old Sonic Yoga in Manhattan, "I was comfortable filing for a trademark online because of my legal background, but I’d strongly advise others to find an intellectual property attorney to at least review their application before it goes through. The last thing you want to do is plop down money for a trademark that won’t be accepted."
Constance Loizos is a San Francisco-based writer whose work has appeared in more than a dozen magazines, including Inc., Fast Company, and San Francisco Magazine. She is currently writing a book about businesswomen.