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2 Steps to a Trademarkable App Name: The Legal Side of iOS App Development Part II

Choosing the right name for your iOS app is always a difficult task. After all, you’re looking for something that sounds great, is memorable, is not already in use, and has some relation to what your app actually does. Finding the right mix between all of those factors is a tough job, but we have a few tips to help point you in the right direction.

Before we get into them, though, be sure to check out our post on How To Pick The Perfect Name For Your Business. You may find a number of helpful hints that can easily be applied to naming your app.

There are really three goals you should have in mind when choosing your app’s name: (1) Choose something that somewhat describes what your app is or does, (2) Choose something you can trademark, and (3) Choose something that is catchy or marketable.

Since our posts try to stick with the legal side of things, we’ll be talking about trademarkability. I’ve discussed trademarks a bit on our site before, but as a refresher, there are a couple of things you need to know. The biggest, when it comes to choosing a name, is to make that name as distinctive as possible. Whether you’re able to register a trademark for the app’s name at some point in the future largely depends on how distinctive your mark is. If you’re naming your new messaging app Message App, that’s not particularly distinctive—it’s merely descriptive and therefore somewhat unlikely to be registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). However, if you name your messaging app something like Fast Messages, you’re getting somewhere. You have a name that is a little more distinctive than before. However, if you really want to take it to the next level, then take a page from messaging app names like WhatsApp or KakaoTalk, both of which have very distinct names.

The next issue you need to be on the lookout for when coming up with a name for your iOS app is to make sure you’re not (inadvertently) taking a page from an existing trademark. In other words, if your mark is too similar to a currently registered mark, you’re going to have a tough time registering your app’s name with the USPTO. Before any trademark can be registered, it has to be cleared through the USPTO’s strict set of searches, and if any problems pop up, it will delay the process. Furthermore, even after your application has cleared the USPTO examining attorney’s first search, the mark goes on to be published in the Trademark Official Gazette, a weekly publication from the USPTO that documents the marks that are approved for registration each week. Once published, you have to wait to make sure nobody opposes your mark before the USPTO will finally register your trademark. Long process, right? It takes at least 6-7 months.

Ultimately, I always recommend approaching naming an app (or a business) as a two step process. Start by coming up with 3-5 names you think sound great. Then start searching around to make sure those names aren’t already in use. Of course, if you hire a trademark attorney to help you through the process, we’ll do all of the searching for you.

Keep an eye out for our next post on the legal side of iOS app development, where we talk about forming your business in a way that’s great for you—and will make your future investors happy too.

Photo Courtesy: Thomas Leuthard