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Should I trademark my farm’s name?


If you sell retail or direct-to-consumer products or plan to add value to your farm’s production with a packaged product carrying the farm name, it might be a good idea to trademark your farm’s name. A trademark creates legal protection for your farm or product name. It is completed at the national level, and involves research to ensure that you’re not using a name that someone has trademarked already, which would create a challenge to your use of that name.

If you sell bulk products with no retail label, you probably don’t need to go through the expense and time of registering a trademark – this is especially true if your farm name includes your family name, such as Smith Family Dairy or Johnson Farms.

The first step in getting a trademark for your farm name is to register the name with your home state and surrounding states if you plan to do business there. For many farms, this step provides enough protection and a national trademark is not necessary — you’ll need to assess your own risk to determine if state registries are sufficient.

To find a state registry, search the Internet for “trademark registry [state name].” These registry websites have a search feature that lets you enter the name you want to trademark to see if someone else has already registered that name in that state. If the name is available, you can follow the instructions on the website to register your farm name. The cost to do this can range from $15 to $100, depending on the state. Registering your farm name this way gives you legal protection to challenge others who try to use the same name. It does not guarantee that someone would not use your name outside of the registry system.

To obtain broader legal protection for your farm name, you would need to trademark it on the national level. Start by searching for your farm name in the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) . In fact, it’s worth your time to conduct a search even if you’re only going to enter your name in state registries. You could run into trouble, as I have, if you use a trademarked name even locally.

I have used my farm’s name for more than 20 years without a trademark or state registry. I recently received a “cease and desist” order from a company in California who had federally trademarked “Sweet Earth” 25 years ago in numerous food categories, including fresh produce. I am now in the midst of changing my farm’s name, a difficult and time-consuming process, but better than a lawsuit that I would lose if I tried to keep my farm’s name.

Obtaining your own national trademark involves a lot of searching, documentation and time. You can go through numerous confusing steps on the national trademark website and do it yourself, but I recommend hiring a lawyer that specializes in trademarks. The cost to hire a trademark lawyer to set up a national trademark will be $1,000 or more.

Once your name is trademarked, you must maintain that trademark by periodically informing the state or federal agency that it is still in use. This might be every three, five or ten years depending on the agency. Typically, there is not a fee for renewal of trademarks, but that might change.

Take time to think about potential future endeavors involving your farm name. If you decide you’ll market products under your farm name, do a thorough trademark search and register that name. Consider getting a trademark for your logo at the same time—it can save you time and money to do both trademark searches and applications together.

If you have more questions, you can contact a law firm. Here are two that specialize in working with sustainable and organic farmers in the upper Midwest: Fare Grange and Farm Commons.

Posted: Jan 2007
Answer By: Harriet Behar