Research and Register Your Food Truck Name
Before you fall in love with the name you’ve chosen for your mobile food business and rush out to print business cards and start advertising, you need to do a little research. You need to make sure that name you really like isn’t already registered by someone else.
Bypassing this step can mean fines for copyright infringement, plus having to spend time and money to change your name. (A U.S. trademark or service mark costs $325 — a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of defending your name in court later.)
Your goal is to answer three questions as you conduct your trademark research:
Do any trademark registrations exist that may prohibit you from using your proposed name?
Is your proposed name eligible for registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) so you’ll be able to enforce and defend your name?
Does your proposed name infringe on any common law trademark rights?
You can start your research on your own by searching online; just type your desired name into your favorite search engine and see what pops up. In addition, some professional search organizations, such as Legal Zoom, specialize in doing research on company names.
A search of the USPTO’s trademark records is also a good starting point because it helps you identify trademarks that were previously granted or denied registration. If any registered trademark is identical to your proposed name or might lead to consumer confusion, you may be infringing on another’s trademark.
(Note that the test for trademark infringement doesn’t require two names to be identical but only confusingly similar to the consumer; the spelling doesn’t have to be the same.)
During your investigation, you may notice that certain descriptive terms and geographic designations aren’t eligible for trademark protection; this is because the underlying policy of the USPTO is to allow business owners to use descriptive terms and names to describe their businesses. For example, “Los Angeles Tacos” would likely be refused trademark registration because “Tacos” is descriptive of the food and “Los Angeles” names the location.
This issue is prevalent in the food service industry because many restaurant and food truck owners choose names with descriptive terms, such as “Bar and Grill,” “Mediterranean Cuisine,” “Denver Steakhouse,” and so on.
Therefore, to increase your chances of obtaining registration through the USPTO (which is a great tool for future expansion because it provides legal protection throughout the United States), use fewer descriptive terms and geographic designations. Instead, consider a unique alternative, such as making up a word.
Be aware that other food trucks or restaurants that haven’t secured federal trademark registrations may still acquire common law rights within limited geographic regions through their use of a name. In this case, you may be prohibited from using a similar name within a given region. With this point in mind, search online to find businesses that haven’t registered their trademarks through the USPTO but may still have common law rights.
While you’re searching, check online to make sure an appropriate domain name is available. You want YourFoodTruckName.com, if at all possible. If that’s not available, you may want to reconsider your name choice.
If the name you’ve decided on is available, register it with your state’s Secretary of State office, and then register it with the USPTO. After your trademark is registered, it stays registered to you as long as you file a renewal every ten years.
Making an educated decision for the name of a new mobile food business isn’t an easy task. It can be filled with complicated details and analysis. The best way to fully understand the implications of choosing an appropriate and legal food truck name is to consult an attorney who has a firm grasp of U.S. trademark law.