A trade name is an official name used to identify a business and distinguish it from the business of another. It is also known as a “doing business as” name or fictitious name. A farmer with a registered trade name may use it to open bank accounts, enter into contracts, obtain business credit cards, and pursue or defend a claim in court. This is of particular import to farms run as sole proprietorships. When a farm is run as a sole proprietorship it cannot conduct business in any name other the name of the owner unless a trade name is registered. If a farm enters into contracts or other legal documents under an unregistered trade name, the documents may be unenforceable. Business organizations (partnerships, corporations, LLCs) can also register a trade name to conduct business under a name other than the name of the business organization or entity.
By contrast, a trademark is words and/or symbols used to identify goods and distinguish the goods from those sold by another. For example, Brandt's Fruit Trees trademarked their apple, Pink Lady Apple, as the only truly pink apple in the industry. It is also possible to register a service mark by registering words and/or symbols to identify services that a person performs and to distinguish them from services that another person performs.
Registering a trademark or service mark guarantees exclusive use, establishes legally that your mark is not already being used, and provides government protection from any liability or infringement issues that may arise. Registering trademarks and service marks can be done on the state level and the federal level. In order to register a trade mark or service mark, the applicant must demonstrate the previous use of the mark in commerce (on logos, labels, etc.). A trade name that is also as a trademark or service mark may be registered as a trademark or service mark with the Maryland Secretary of State.
Before choosing a trade name, a business owner should make sure that the name is not currently registered to another business. This can be done by contacting the Charter Commission of the State Department of Assessment of Taxation (SDAT) at 410-230-6171. It is important to note that acceptance of a trade name application does not confer on the owner any greater right to use the name than he or she otherwise already has.
To register a trade name in Maryland a business owner can go online to the Maryland Business Express portal or fill out a trade name application that can be mailed along with the fee ($25.00) to SDAT. Trade name applications must be signed by each owner. For further information, contact your lawyer for individual legal advice.
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