How to Name Your Life Sciences Company: Track Your Names
This is Part 9 in our series on naming your life sciences company. For previous posts, click here.
Today, the amount of information that we deal with is overwhelming. This is certainly true of names. Take grocery stores, for example. The average store in the United States now carries some 50,000 products, up from 15,000 in 19801. (Incidentally, the average family buys only 150 items.)
At the same time, more companies are operating globally, manufacturing and marketing their products around the world. This has led to a vast number of products, companies, and services needing names.
Add the Internet boom with its increasing number of online properties to the mix of products being developed, and the numbers become staggering. Consequently, many of the obvious choices for names are already in use.
Virtually every conventional word in the dictionary has been applied to an existing product. These names are trademarked and the URLs are registered.
What does this mean for you?
It means you need to strive for a more evocative, more emotional, more original name that differentiates you from your competition.
It means you’ll need to combine words in a way that is more original, perhaps more unusual than others have … or you’ll need to invent a new word.
Previous entries in this series addressed how to generate names beyond the obvious ones that others have already thought of and have registered.
In this section, I’ll discuss how to effectively determine whether a name candidate you’ve chosen might be available. As a rule, I suggest having no more than 100 name candidates before you begin the trademark and URL availability check. More than this number becomes difficult to check because verifying availability is a lot of work. Fewer than 20 will likely require you generate more names.
But wait a second, didn’t you say to generate as many names as possible?
And how did I narrow our list from 2000 to 500 to 100?
I narrowed the list by eliminating those that were too obvious, those that wouldn’t work for us and by scoring the rest of the names. I recommend you put your names in a spreadsheet (you’ll need to do this for trademark and URL, anyway, and a spreadsheet will allow you to sort the names according to how they score), then score them on a 1 to 10 basis according to whether the name:
- meets your strategy
- “looks” right
- sounds right
- “feels” right
- is distinctive
- has character (or depth)
- has a positive or negative meaning
- meets any other criteria that you deem important
This exercise is extremely valuable because it forces you to move past the touchy-feely (and subjective) “I like this name,” and examine your names objectively. In other words, the numbers don’t lie.
So, now you have a list of about 100 names. Now what?
Your names are already in a spreadsheet, right? Now assign columns for:
- U.S. Trademark (if you plan to market your product in the U.S.)
- European Trademark (if you plan to market your product in Europe)
- Your country’s Trademark
- URL Availability (if you plan to have a dedicated website for this product/service/company)
- Search Results
For each name, engage in the following screening process:
U.S. Trademark: Using the U.S. Patent Office database at www.ustpo.gov, search for the name. Depending on the name you’ve chosen, there may be zero results or there may be hundreds. Be sure to note both “Live” or “Dead” trademarks for this word, and the categories in which they are trademarked. Searching trademarks has a variety of payoffs. While it will let you know if a name has been trademarked in a category in which you plan to compete, it will also alert you to competitors of whom you may not be aware. This process should not replace using a trademark attorney to confirm the availability of a name that appears available. It will, however, rule out names that are already trademarked in a category that applies to your product/company/service.
Repeat this process for the databases for European Trademark and the Trademark office in your country.
URL Availability: Using an online URL registration service (e.g., register.com or godaddy.com), search for your name. If the “.com” extension is taken, consider using a “.net” or “.biz” extension. The name may even read better with an alternate top level domain (TLD) registration. If an alternate extension is available, try saying the entire address out loud. Mark carefully in your spreadsheet which URLs are available for each name. If, at the end of this process, you find almost all URLs are taken, consider possible alternatives for a URL. For example, if you are launching a company called “Clean Sweep!” that manufactures digitally enhanced cleaning tools, you might find that www.cleansweep.com has been taken by a household cleaning service in Michigan. If so, consider an alternate URL that might be available, such as www.cleansweepproducts.com or www.cleansweep.net.
In addition, you may want to consider using an alternative TLD, such as .de (for Germany), .es (for Spain), .in (for India), or.us (for the United States). While the majority of properties online strive for the .com TLD, creative individuals and companies are starting to use the alternative TLDs. Social bookmarks manager, Del.icio.us (which is now owned by Yahoo!) is one example.
Search Engine Screening: Use an online search engine, such as www.google.com or www.yahoo.com to search for your name. Note how many results are generated by your search. This will give you a sense of how common a usage this word or phrase may have. It will also help you understand the contexts in which the word is being used. Watch out for forms of slang you may not have been aware of! The fewer results usually indicate a more unique name that might have more traction when assigned a new meaning as applied to your product.
I have my spreadsheet, what now?
It is likely that this screening process has eliminated quite a few names. Remove any names from your list that are already trademarked in your category, have unacceptable connotations, or seem to be used pervasively on the web. If the URL is unavailable, and if having a website with this name is critical to your business, omit those as well. Count how many are left and consider whether you need to generate more names based on what you have learned.
NOTE: This process will allow you to establish a short list of names that you feel good about and that are likely to be available. This process does not replace a very important final step: using an attorney fluent in trademark issues to execute a final trademark check and registration process.