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Trade names vs. trademarks: What's the difference?

When Floridians start their own business, many learn all sorts of intellectual property terms they were previously only vaguely familiar with -- copyrights, patents, trademarks and fictitious names and trade secrets, for example. These can be crucial to establishing and protecting your unique identity in your field. Two terms that people often confuse with one another are trade names and trademarks.

Your trade name is what customers, vendors and others know you by. Establishing and protecting your trade name from use by competitors can help protect your brand and your business. Business owners in your field risk legal problems if they use the same or even a similar name. For example, a fast food chain can't use the name MacDonald's even though it's spelled slightly different than McDonald's.

A trademark helps provide additional protection for your brand. Beyond your trade name, it can include symbols, logos and phrases that are associated with a trade name. Sometimes logos and symbols become so famous that people who see them immediately associate them with a particular company. The Nike "swoosh" is a good example of a logo that's known worldwide and immediately associated with a particular company.

While most companies never attain the international recognition of McDonald's or Nike, it's important to understand the value of both your trade name and trademark as well as other identifying elements and to protect them. As you start your company and continue to grow it, a Florida intellectual property attorney can guide you through the steps you need to take to protect your good name and also to help you avoid unintentionally infringing on someone else's intellectual property rights.

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