Fictitious Names vs Trademarks: What’s the Difference?

Here at MBM, we get a lot of questions from small business clients about whether registering a fictitious name affords a business the exclusive right to use that name. It does not. Here’s a quick primer on the difference between fictitious names and trademarks.

Fictitious Names: Registering and Understanding the Basics

A fictitious name is a name under which you are doing business but is different from your actual or legal name. The public, consumers, and other parties contracting with your business need to be able to readily identify the true name of your business and the individuals operating it. So, if you are doing business under a name that is different from your legal name, you must register your fictitious name with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations. However, registering your fictitious name does not provide your business with an exclusive right to use the name. In fact, registration does not grant you any ownership rights in the name at all. Instead, it merely allows your company to use a different name when interacting with members of the public. It is intended to protect the public by giving them notice about what name an entity is operating under rather than protecting the owner.

Trademarks: Protecting Your Brand and Intellectual Property

Trademarks are very different.

In the end, the two ideas are apples and oranges. Essentially, fictitious names are merely identifiers of a business to inform the public about the names under which you are operating your business. Trademarks are used to identify the source of goods or services and can provide protection for your business’ brand. A trademark can be any word, phrase, design, or combination of all of them that identifies the source of goods or services. A trademark does not grant ownership in a word or phrase, but it does protect your right to use the word or phrase in connection with the goods or services you provide to your customers. Trademarks in Pennsylvania are registered with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations. Registering your fictitious name does not create a trademark and registering a trademark does not grant your business a fictitious name.

If you or your business need help with either, reach out to the experienced business attorneys at Maiello Brungo & Maiello, LLP.