Ah, the quest for the most perfect brand name. You’re pretty sure you landed on one that’s the perfect mix of your vision for your business and large dose of your personality.
Now you can start the process of finding a brand photographer, creating your logo, and all that fun stuff, right?
… after doing a bit of leg work.
Because if you have big dreams (or even small dreams) of creating a legacy brand or even eventually sell your business for profit, we first need to make sure you can actually have a business with your intended brand name in the first place.
Because an unplanned rebrand can be costly.
Even if you already know how to choose a business name that you can eventually own someday (ie: as a registered trademark in the assets column of your business balance sheet), here’s a refresher with some helpful tips to make it less of an ordeal.
Step 1: Brainstorm a List of Brand Name Candidates
Grab your Post-it notes + markers. It’s time for the fun bit!
Katy French of Column Five Media suggests starting the brainstorming session with prompts such as:
- Adjectives to describe your product/service
- What you want your customers & clients to feel when they use your product/service
- Free associations (eg: when I say “leggings” you think of ______)
- Descriptions of what you do or make
- Founder names
- Made-up words
- Acronyms (eg: Donna Karan New York —> DKNY)
- Portmanteaus (eg: Face + Book = Facebook)
Don’t worry about editing at this point. We’ll get to sifting through them for your perfect brand name in a bit.
Try to get around 20 potential names.
Step 2: Cross of the Non-Registerable Names
Now it’s time for the vetting process.
Because you want to be able to register your brand name as a trademark, there are a few names you’d want to immediately cross off your list.
Is it a name or a surname?
Put a pin on that.
Generally, in Canada, names and surnames are not registrable trademarks. That is, unless you can show that your name or surname has basically taken a life of its own.
Like how people associate BEN & JERRY’S® as a brand of ice cream or VERA WANG® as a brand of dinnerware (Tbh, I’m more familiar with Vera Wang as a wedding dress designer, but it looks like that trademark application is still processing).
Next, can you find it in the dictionary?
If your answer is “absolutely”—whether that dictionary is in English, Tagalog, or Liki (apparently only spoken by 11 people worldwide!)—then, you may want to get a second pin.
See, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO, for short), doesn’t register adjectives. It also doesn’t register words that are clearly associated with the product/service that holds the brand name.
This is why APPLE®, the company making our Macbooks & iPhones, can get away with having “apple” in its name, but SNAPPLE APPLE®, a company making fruit juice cannot.
Third, can you travel there for your next vacation?
If so, then you’d want to cross that brand name of your list. Brand names with places of origin are a no-go for registering at CIPO.
Made-up places are generally okay—as long as you own the copyright
Make a note of this place-of-origin fact though! Since it was significant enough for you to consider as a brand name, it’s likely something that should find its way in your copy to show off your “onlyness” factor to your potential clients & customers.
Now, obviously, we won’t be able to register trademarks that are similar to another company working in the same space as us.
Like, if we had a publishing house, for example. That sold books. And delivered them….
…there’s no way we’d be naming our company “Amazon”. Or “Amazone”. Or “Amazin’”.
Puns are fun, but if someone does an internet search for an already established company similar to ours and her fingers slip and she ends up on our website, chances are we’re not going to be able to register a trademark to our brand name.
Step 3: Do a Registered Trademarks Search
So, how do we figure out if another company like ours is already out there existing?
First, we do a trademark search in the CIPO Canadian Trademarks database. CIPO’s website has a really helpful tutorial to help you do a comprehensive search.
A comprehensive search is important because, in Canada, registering trademarks is on a “first-to-use” basis. There are LOADS to say on this topic, but for now, what you need to know is that “first-to-use” means that the person who first uses a trademark in Canada generally gets the exclusive right to register & use that trademark in Canada.
And since trademark trolls exist (these people register unprotected brands without the real owner knowing and have NO intention of using that trademark at all), you’d want to figure out whether it makes more business sense to challenge the trolls’ application (or invalidate that trolls’ registration) so you can get your brand name back or whether it’d be better to just go with a different name altogether.
Pro-tip: Take advantage of the advanced search features
Step 4: Search the Internet for Unregistered Trademarks
We’re almost out of the woods!
But first, we need to make sure that no other company is already using your brand name—or something similar to it! Remember, Canada is a “first-to-use” trademark jurisdiction.
So, the first course of action is a basic internet search.
Hop on your favourite search engine, do a search with your company name PLUS “Canada”, and if there’s no hit, proceed to the next type of search. It’ll look a little something like this:
Remember how earlier we said that similar names are a no-go? So, try spelling your potential brand name with typos.
So you’re not going down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole, limit your search to Canadian companies. Different countries have different trademark laws, so what’s protected in the US is likely not protected in Canada.
And if something does show up? Check out the website. Peruse it like you would if you were a potential customer. Is this company a competitor? If so, sorry, it’s back to the brand name drawing board.
Step 5: Do a Domain Search
Next, do a domain name search.
Domain names aren’t the same thing as trademarks—so registering your domain name doesn’t give you ANY trademark rights—but you want to own the website to your brand, right?
WHC helps you check if a “.ca” website is available. Pro-tip: if you add a “.com” to your preferred domain name, you’ll also be able to see if the .com domain is available for your potential brand name.
Play around with this and look at other commonly used domain endings like: .net, .org, .studio (alright, not that common, but hey! a photography studio could be using it 🤷🏻♀️), etc.
And if someone already owns a domain you want? You may want to do a WHO.is or an ICANN search to find out who the current owner of that domain is & contact him to see if he would be interested in transferring that domain to you.
Step 6: Search the Corporate Registry
Like domain names, registering a company in your province does NOT give you any trademark rights.
But, it IS evidence of who first used a particular brand name.
And, in every Canadian province, there is a corporate registry. While not all businesses have to register their names in a corporate registry, businesses who have trade names or are corporations MUST.
So for example, if I just ran my law firm under my own name, “Czarina Maroelle Pacaide”, then I technically didn’t have to register my business under the corporate registry. BUT because I’m DBA (aka: doing business as) “Anahaw Law”—even though I’m not a corporation—then I would need to register.
So, when you do a Name Search in BC, you’ll be able to find out if there is already a business with a similar name as yours…
… and cross that off your potential brand names list.
You may also want to order a NUANS search report. What this does is a search through corporations & registered trademarks across Canada and, if your name is available, reserves your corporation name for you. It doesn’t do a search of DBAs though.
Now, if you’re not thinking of incorporating in BC, you don’t actually have to go ahead and order a report. But what you can do is use the first step to do a preliminary search, so that you can see if a corporation in Alberta, for example, is already using your intended brand name.
^ the most important steps in doing a NUANS search
Optional Bonus Points: Search Social Media Platforms
Okay, this step is bordering Wonderland territory, but if your business has/will have a significant presence on Instagram, Tiktok, and the like, you may want to do a search in these social media platforms…
… and reserve your social media handles. There are always ways to work around this, but if you don’t have to, why wait until you have to, right?
Et c’est tout!
At this point, you’ll be left with a list of potential business names that you’ll more than likely be able to protect, own & grow into a thriving brand.
Now, all that’s left is for you to choose a brand name to move forward with.
Was this post helpful? Or do you have more questions? Let me know in the comments!
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