Trademarks protect branding- things like your business name and your logo that you put on your products so that your customers know they are not knock-offs or imitations. For a really big business, a brand is worth big bucks and the cost of a trademark registration is small in comparison. So for a big company it is a no brainer to register all their branding- business name, logos, slogans, even names of individual product lines.
But smaller businesses are often working on a limited budget. The benefits of trademark registration
are not so obviously greater than the cost of registration, which can be close to a thousand dollars, depending on the difficulty of registering the trademark and the law firm used. So, many business owners decide that they want to limit their registration to a single trademark, and are left with a decision between registering their business name and their logo.
Registering Your Business Name as a Trademark
Usually, I recommend registering your business name if you are only going to register one trademark. A business name should be registered with a "standard character claim," meaning that your registration covers your name regardless of the font, case, and any stylistic or graphic elements used. This gives you broad protection and prevents an infringer from claiming no confusion would be likely because its mark uses a different font, etc.
Registering your business name with a standard character claim protects you against any use of the name, inside or outside of a logo or design. And for many businesses, their name is the most important thing to protect. After all, your name is what people use when discussing or referring your business to others. And if your logo is minimalist, the other visual elements may not be that memorable anyway.
The downside of trademarking your business name alone is that it offers no protection for the design elements of your logo. You still may have common-law rights to your logo, but you would lack the important benefits of trademark registration. Another business could begin using a similar logo with a different business name, and that could be difficult for you to stop.
Registering Your Logo as a Trademark
The advantage of registering your logo is that it protects both the design elements of your logo and your business name (assuming that your logo incorporates your business name). However, there are many disadvantages.
For one thing, your protection for your name will be somewhat weakened. Another business seeking to register a logo with a similar name can argue that confusion would be unlikely because of the design differences between the two marks. Such an argument can succeed, particularly if your business name might be considered descriptive of the business you are in. I have successfully made such arguments, and even have advised clients that they could get around a third-party registration if they registered their brand with a certain stylization or design element.
Another potential problem is that logos can change over the years. Even the largest corporations rebrand once in a while. When your logo changes, your old logo trademark registration goes out the window. Now you have to file a new registration for your new logo. Your old registration, if it was in use for five years, may have become incontestable, greatly strengthening it in legal disputes. Your new registration will not be.
Register Your Business Name - Usually
For the above reasons, I usually recommend that my clients register their business names if they only want to file one registration. An exception might be if their name could run into a conflict that their logo would have a better chance of avoiding, or if the design element of their logo is critical or especially distinctive. However, even if you really like and want to protect the design element of your logo, I would strongly suggest looking into registering both
your logo and your business name alone. If you have any questions about the costs vs. benefits, I would be happy to help you answer them!