Business owner dressing a mannequin in her shop window.
If another company takes your business name, you may want to consider speaking to a business lawyer to decide the best strategy to take. — Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

No business owner wants to spend years making a name for their business only to discover that another company has taken their business name. Here are five steps you can take if someone takes your business name.

Register your business name

The first step to protect your business name is registering it with local and state agencies. If you’ve been in business long, you may have already done this. But if not, you can start by applying for your Employer Identification Number.

From there, you can visit the Secretary of State’s website to see what you need to do to register your business. Most states will allow you to register your business online, and you may need to pay a small fee.

Make sure you understand how to stay current on your registration requirements. For instance, some states may require you to submit supporting documentation or reports after registering your business.

[Read more: How to Register a Business Name: 6 Steps to Get Started]

Apply for a trademark

Next, you can apply for a federal trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Trademarking your business name gives you additional protections beyond just registering it with the state.

A trademark prevents another company from using a similar business name to sell goods or services. It also gives you the right to present a trademark lawsuit in federal court.

However, trademarking your business name can be a lengthy process, and there is no guarantee the USPTO will approve your request. If you are successful, you’ll need to meet the following requirements to maintain your trademark:

  • Continue using your trademark in interstate commerce.
  • File your registration maintenance documents with the USPTO and pay the required fees on time.
  • Keep your contact information up to date.

If the other company claims they had the name first, you need to be able to prove otherwise. The best way to do that is by showing documentation that you used the name in commerce first.

Keep detailed records

If the other company claims they had the name first, you need to be able to prove otherwise. The best way to do that is by showing documentation that you used the name in commerce first.

For instance, you can produce records of advertising copy, products with your business name, or even Google search results. It’s also a good idea to begin keeping track of any trademark violations.

You need to be able to show that the other company’s name is similar enough that it infringes on your trademark rights. You need to be able to make a case that customers would be adequately confused as to whether that company’s products or services are associated with your business.

Talk to a business lawyer

If the other company keeps using your business name, you may want to speak to a business lawyer. An experienced business lawyer can advise you on the best course of action going forward.

For instance, they can send a cease-and-desist letter on your behalf. If that doesn’t work, they can help you determine whether filing a civil lawsuit against that company makes sense.

[Read more: Finding a Small Business Attorney for Your Startup]

Let it go

If another company takes your business name, it may make sense to fight it if you have a lot to lose. But if the other company’s decision doesn’t affect your business that much, you may want to let it go.

For instance, is the other company genuinely confusing your audience? Are you losing customers because of the name similarities? If your businesses operate in two different industries and target different audiences, it may not be a problem.

And if the other company has been around longer and has better brand recognition, you may want to consider changing your business name. A business name is important, but it’s just one piece of your brand. There are ways to successfully rebrand your business and move in a new and better direction.

[Read more: 10 Examples of Famous Businesses That Changed Their Names]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Next Event: Tax Filing Tips!

Join us on Thursday, February 22, at 12 pm ET for the first episode of our expert series, Ready. Set. Scale.: Smart Tax Tips for a Stress-Free Filing. We will have seasoned leaders offering actionable tips to help minimize the stressors of tax time for small businesses.