How Is a Trademark Different From A Trade Name?

Oftentimes people mistakenly believe that they can rightfully use their trade name for any purpose once they have met all the registration requirements in their state to form their company. However, in most, if not all cases, this is not true.

A business’s name is generally used in two different situations:

  • For bank accounts, contracts entered into with other companies, and official government filings, the formal name of the company is used (trade name):
  • And when marketing the goods and services, the name of the business can also be used (service mark or trademark).

A business’s trade name can serve as a trademark if it is used in a manner in which it establishes a separate commercial impression from the tradename. What does this mean in practice?

If the full trade name is accompanied by the contact and location information, then it’s likely a trade name. If the trade name is perceived by the buyers of the goods and services as a brand name of the goods and services, then it is functioning as a trademark. 

For example, imagine a bag of Doritos®  brand chips.  On the front of the bag, there is a large Doritos® logo, such that when a consumer picks up a bag, they immediately recognize the brand name of the product. Because of the size and placement of Doritos®, it is functioning as a trademark.  


In contrast, at the bottom of the bag, under the nutrition information panel, is the name and address of the manufacture of Doritos® chips, Frito-Lay, Inc.

This information doesn’t function as a brand name of the Doritos® brand chips, but merely serves to inform the consumer of the company that is responsible for the product.

If the company wants to use their corporate name/trade name for marketing, they must first research to see if it is available for use as a trademark.

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