All right. You're really excited you've made the decision that you want to open your own practice or your own business. You've kind of made that choice mentally and now you have to figure out a name. Uh oh. That holds a lot of people back because it takes them a long time to figure out the perfect name. And then when they do, they fall in love with the name and then they realized somebody else had it.
So today, we're going to talk about:
So, all right, the first choice you have to make is what are you going to call it? Obviously, that is the choice of the hour, but the first branch of the tree is: am I going to use my name, Rattigan Functional Medicine in this case? Or am I going to use a made-up name? (Made-up names are sometimes called “fictitious names” on secretaries of state websites or other articles that you'll see lawyers talking about.) A fictitious name example is Premier Functional Medicine, Apex, Acme Functional Medicine— something like that, where it's kind of not your own given name.
Now, keep in mind, some state medical boards will require that you use your name and your credentials in the name of the company. If you want to use a fictitious name, you may have to register with the state medical board first to make sure that the name is clear to use for your licensure. That's not really a concern when it comes to other types of businesses, but for medical practices, you should definitely refer to your state. California and New York, for example, will require you to clear your fictitious name with them first.
Common reasons why people do want to use their name include that they have been a provider for a long time and lots of people in their community know them by name, particularly their colleagues, or perhaps that they feel like they want to be the next celebrity doctor. And that's fine as well. But there are some common reasons why people don't want to use their name, including that they don't feel like they want to be on the name of the door; they don't want to be on the shingle. Or, perhaps they are concerned that if they go to sell the practice in a decade it will be harder to get buyers or even to get buyers to pay as much.
Here is one concern I hear from providers: if your name is on the door and it's Rattigan Functional Medicine and you go to hire another doctor or mid-levels to help you, some patients may turn up their noses if they are not seeing the provider whose name is on the door. That all depends on how you communicate with patients and may not be a concern if you introduce new providers in a way that makes sense. But, it is a real concern that I hear from providers. So, there are some key considerations to help you decide. If you're going to use your real name, then great. Many go this route. If it's something like John Smith, it's a little bit harder, but it can be done if it's available to you. But if it's something that's more unique (Scott Rattigan, for example, is a fairly uncommon name around the world), then you could definitely go with that and be done.
If you're going to choose a fictitious name, there are a few things you should keep in mind so that you don't run into trademark issues, and you need to make sure that patients can find you. So, let’s discuss trademark issues. Trademark law is a different thing entirely, and we could spend a lot of time on it, but I want to bring in some concepts from that area of law into naming your business because it does intersect here a little bit. The first thing you should know is you don't need to register a trademark before you name your business. It does help if you've done some preliminary searching or even conducted a formal search with an attorney or a law firm or another business that does trademark searches. But, you don't need to register the name in advance, or at all really, if it's unique enough. That's one myth.
The second thing we need to talk about with using fictitious names is that you want it to be sort of unique so that, again, people can find you. In the functional medicine community, there are a lot of practices or businesses that have very, very similar names. For example: Flourish, Nourish, Thrive, Primitive, Roots, and Origins are very common names in our community. So what you want to do first is definitely kick some names around until you find one that you kind of like, and then just go to the Google machine, type it in, and see what comes up. Some of those names that I just talked about could have three or four, or in some cases, seven or eight, practices with a similar name.
So if you're giving talks in the community and you're marketing and you're paying for advertisements and the name on the advertisement is Premier Functional Medicine, you don't want like four or five other Premier Health or Premier Wellness to be in the mix with you. You want patients to be able to find you full stop. That's before we talk about any kind of trademark that naming Premier Functional Medicine would have if somebody else is already using Premier Health or Premier Wellness; then you could be in some trouble and have to change all of your branding and marketing materials down the road.
So, what do you do? When you finally have a list of three or four names that you may like to use, here's what you do. Go to Google, go to Facebook, go to GoDaddy, go to all the social media sites, and see if your names are available. But you have to keep in mind that even if it's similar (like I said, Premier Health, Premier Wellness, Premier Medicine, Premier Functional Medicine, Premier Alternative Medicine), those could bring about trademark infringing cases. So, you want to make sure again that your name is fairly unique.
How do you do that? Well, in the trademark concept world, the best ways to make sure your name is unique are to, one just make up a word. Famous examples of made up brand names are Xerox and Kodak. They have nothing to do with printers. I don't know what Xerox's first business offerings were, but Kodak has nothing to do with cameras. It's not a word in English. And to my knowledge is not a word in any language. The next best way to kind of differentiate yourself is to use a word that has nothing to do with the services you're offering. Famous examples of that are Apple computers or in the functional medicine world, Parsley Health. Parsley is an herb, but it has nothing to do with functional medicine.
Even better, you could say something like Diploma Functional Medicine. I'm just kind of looking at things in my office background; Old Glory Functional Medicine would be good as an arbitrary name (which is a good quality in the trademark world). Anything that makes one question why these two things go together. Take Delta Airlines and Delta Faucets. Those are two different companies as well. This is also something to keep in mind as you're doing your search on Facebook and Google and all that.
Trademark issues are industry-specific. I just gave that example of Delta Airlines and Delta Faucets, two completely different companies, but they both have federal and, I believe, international trademarks as well for that brand name, and it's okay because it’s industry-specific. Trademarks are really only applicable to the rights that you can keep others from using your mark, as I mentioned. And again, the whole concept comes back to confusion in the marketplace. Nobody's searching for tickets from Albuquerque to Chicago is going to end up on Delta Faucets and be like, "Oh yeah, where are my tickets? How do I book this flight?"
Similarly, if you're looking for a new bathroom vanity or something like that, and you end up on Delta Airlines' website, there's no way that you're going to be confused and be like, "Oh, this isn't right. So I need to type in something else. Delta Faucets." So, as you're going through your fictitious names, make sure that you pick something that's somewhat unique for your industry. If there's another company out there that does something completely different, you're fine to use that in most cases generally.
So to recap, it's an exciting time to be naming your practice. One of your first decisions is whether you will name it after yourself or use a fictitious name or a business name. If you are using a fictitious name, then make sure it's fairly unique and that it doesn't infringe on the trademark rights of anybody else. And you can't just rely on Google and Facebook, GoDaddy, and all of those because there could be somebody who has a registered trademark already with the USPTO or with state patent and trademark offices as well.
But if you do those basic searches, it will get you most of the way there. And if you have any questions or need any help setting up your entity once you name it, follow us at Functional Lawyer.
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Scott Rattigan is an attorney, co-founder of a thriving functional medicine membership practice, and the founder of Functional Lawyer. He is an award-winning writer and speaker who is dedicated to helping functional and integrative medicine doctors succeed in building their dream practice.
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