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Has Your Company Name Landed You in Legal Hot Water? Renaming Tips

The #1 reason business owners hire my company to create a new business name within a week is they've received a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney. Often sent by certified mail, this legal document informs you that you are infringing on the registered trademark of another company, and if you do not stop using your company name after a specific date, you will be the target of legal action. I.e., you will be sued.

Such a letter means business. Never ignore it! It requires prompt action on your part.

In most cases, deciding to fight the case is foolhardy. It's best to acquiesce and look for a new company name. Here are the steps you should take.

First, read the letter carefully to determine what was objectionable about the name you have been using. For example, if they objected to you using a certain prefix or suffix, or a rhyme of their name, you'll need to make sure that factor is high on your list of criteria for the new name. Although this sounds obvious, I've seen entrepreneurs get so angry or upset about the demand to change their name that they don't proceed rationally in selecting its replacement.

Second, identify the business goals and objectives that you want the new name to meet. Who is the target market? What kind of statement do you want to make about your company? How do you want to be perceived? Should the name be cute or sedate? Trendy or conservative? Emotional or matter-of-fact?

Third, brainstorm possible names. Along with this article, you'll find a link to a free brainstorming guide for company names. Also see if you can remember or find notes on the runner-up names you considered just before you decided on the name you now have to discard. Sometimes it helps to look at lists of companies in your industry to trigger memories of important keywords or naming approaches you like and dislike.

Fourth, use the business goals and objectives you identified in Step 2 to reject names that will not work. Be ruthless in eliminating names you may like but that do not get across the proper message, don't fit your desired image or might not be understood by customers. From the names that remain, select your top three candidates.

Fifth - and please don't hate me for this! - hire an attorney to check out your top three name candidates to make sure they are legally in the clear. After all, this is the step you probably skipped the first time around. One entrepreneur I know failed to do this and had to change his company twice in one year, which made him look extremely careless.

And last, take the time to live with your top choice for a few days before finalizing it. Imagine saying it on the phone, at business meetings, seeing it on signage and so on. Is it a name you feel completely good about? If so, you're done. Congratulations! If not, repeat some of the previous steps as necessary.

Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms creative business names, product names and tag lines for clients. For a systematic process of coming up with an appealing and effective name or tag line, download a free copy of "19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name or Tag Line" at www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm

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