The Common Law

Do trademark laws affect my local business?

I'm in the process of starting a local business that I hope will grow over time. Should I do a trademark search for the product that I plan to offer? Does it matter if someone in another state is doing something similar?

Local businesses have not historically had the same level of concern with trademark issues as larger national businesses. The evolution of the Internet has altered traditional thinking about the relationship between local businesses and trademark issues.

The Internet provides local businesses with the ability to market, sell, and provide their product nationwide. Rather than being tied down to brick and mortar physical space, businesses offering similar products compete for virtual space and attention online. Additional websites mean increased competition and potential for more confusion in the marketplace.

Because of this change in the marketplace, even local businesses should give thought to whether a proposed name or mark has been taken by another business. This is especially true in other companies that offer similar products or services despite geographical separation.

Business owners can do their own trademark searches. Go to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website (www.uspto.gov), and search the trademark database. Alternatively, if you are willing to shell out some cash, you can hire a private company to conduct the trademark search. For example, one trademark-search firm that is well-regarded is Thomson CompuMark (www.thomson-thomson.com).

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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