Note – This blog post was co-authored by me and my friend and client, Kate Erickson of Entrepreneurs on Fire. The post originally appeared on their blog here. I’ve written about some of these topics before, but not in this level of depth, so I thought it was worth sharing here. Enjoy!
Podcast Trademark: How to Register a Podcast Name
One of the most important decisions a new podcaster makes is what to name their podcast. Along with the multiple tasks and to-do’s you’re already considering as you dive into your podcasting journey, there are a lot of boxes to check that you might not already be thinking about.
One of those boxes? Registering your podcast name.
Many podcasters stumble out of the gate because they don’t realize that naming your podcast requires some understanding of trademark law.
Fortunately, a few simple tips will help you create a podcast brand you can use and own – and also avoid (most) legal trouble.
In this article, I’ll explain a bit about:
- How trademarks work,
- How to find a name for your podcast that hasn’t already been claimed,
- The trademark registration process, and
- I’ll address the eternal question: “do I even need to register my podcast name as a trademark?
But before we dive in, we want to share a complete guide on how to start a podcast! If you’re wondering what the steps are to creating your rss feed, how to submit your podcast to the major directories, what equipment and software to use for recording and editing, and so much more, this blog post has it all!
We also have a resource to help you decide on the best podcast hosting, since this is something you’ll have to decide on before you can launch your new podcast.
Ok, now for a quick review as we transition into the topic at hand: how to register your podcast name…
A trademark is anything that identifies you as the source of goods or services. Trademarks commonly include brand names, product names, logos, and tag lines.
Most likely, the highest priority will be the name of your podcast. That’s your trademark.
Or is it?
Your Podcast Name
The #1 most important tip is this: in the U.S. and many other jurisdictions, trademark rights go to the first person to use that mark for similar goods or services.
That means if someone else has already used the podcast name you’re considering — or a similar name — they are going to have superior legal rights even if they never registered the trademark. Not to mention the rules in Apple Podcasts and similar podcast services.
If you have a podcast name you think might work, first you should search for that name in the common podcast directories (such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify) to check and see if there’s a conflict.
Pro Tip: the podcast name doesn’t have to be identical for there to be a legal conflict. So don’t try to call your podcast “Entrepreneurzz on Fire”, wise guy!
A trademark lawyer can do a more thorough search to make sure your name is available.
If you haven’t quite settled on a name for your podcast, then check out our blog post on going from Podcast Idea to Launch – it includes everything you’ll need in the beginning stages, including an exercise on how to come up with a name for your podcast!
Important Considerations When Naming Your Podcast
Since we have an in-depth post linked above for you, I won’t go into too much detail here, but I want to give you some quick tips.
When it comes to naming your podcast, the most important considerations are:
- Does the name clearly and immediately communicate what your podcast is about?
- Will this name resonate with your ideal listener?
- Is it short enough? (ideally less than 5 words)
- Is the URL available? (this is part of making sure the name is actually available)
- Is it easy to speak the name, and will it be easy for others to remember and look up?
- Remember: you can always leverage your tagline to add even more clarity and detail
There’s any number of sneaky things that come with a name that you might not recognize until you’re already started. For example, John never considered the number of times he’d be sharing his email address when he registered with Gmail @entrepreneuronfire.com 🙂
Luckily he was also able to secure EOFire.com, so that made it a bit easier. So there’s another consideration: what would the acronym or “short version” of your name be?
A good rule of thumb is to always make sure your name is clear first, and clever second (but only if it fits). If you try and be clever or use an inside joke, that will not do you any favors when it comes to gaining visibility and new listeners.
What about social media?
It’s also smart to check the social media platforms you want to create a presence or community on to make sure you can secure your name there, too.
Our top recommendation is to only choose 1 or 2 platforms to start, and then try out more platforms as you start to grow your show and get processes in place for your marketing and promotions.
Biting off more than you can chew is a common problem that podcasters run into, and social media is a medium that can definitely be a time-suck if you’re not careful!
Again, check with a trademark lawyer who can advise whether a certain social media handle mighty be infringing on any existing trademarks, or if there is a possible conflict.
What if I Already Have a Business Name – Should I Use It?
If you’re already running a successful business and want to add a podcast as a marketing strategy, that’s a GREAT idea!
Naming your podcast after your business can show brand solidarity, offer instant credibility and authority, and provide familiarity for those who already follow your business.
However, it’s not absolutely necessary. Just consider whether naming your podcast something completely different might end up confusing people in the end. The last thing you want to do is segment your audience or make it difficult for them to consume your awesome content!
Side note: you should also leverage your existing website for your new podcast versus starting a brand new one just for you podcast. That is, if your existing website and podcast cover the same topic.
Alright, let’s get back to the topic at hand!
What If Someone Else Used the Podcast Name a While Ago?
One important point about trademark law is easy to remember: Use It or Lose It.
Trademark rights only last as long as they’re “in use”.
The rule of thumb is this: if a trademark hasn’t been used in three years, then it’s been abandoned and it’s up for grabs.
But it’s not always that simple. For example, the prior user may still be using that brand name in another context, and if you try to use it, then you could run into legal trouble.
A simple Google search might help you discover whether that particular brand is still alive and well in another context.
But if you have your heart set on a name that was used at some time in the past, you’ll want to get some legal advice before jumping on the name.
I’ve Got a Unique Podcast Name, Now What Do I Do?
You might want to consider registering the mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and/or the trademark offices of other countries where your podcast is heard.
Registration provides a variety of benefits, including a legal presumption that you’re the rightful owner of the mark. This just means that in the case of a dispute, you have the benefit of the doubt on your side.
It’s a fantastic type of insurance to have in the case of a legal conflict — such as someone else coming along with a similar podcast name and trying to draw away your listeners and disrupt your SEO.
You can review the trademark process on the USPTO website, but the trademark registration process is tricky, and if you make a mistake, you don’t get your money back. As a result, this is definitely an area where an experienced trademark attorney can help.
Do I Need to Register My Podcast Name as a Trademark?
A lot of new podcasters ask a variation of the same question: Do I really need a trademark if I’m just starting out and don’t even know if this is going “to work or not”?
Maybe you’re not sure if podcasting is going to work for you yet.
Well, in many cases, a trademark registration isn’t really necessary when you’re just starting out.
In the U.S., you do gain certain legal rights just from using your brand name in public (these are referred to as “Common Law Trademark Rights”).
So just because you haven’t registered your podcast name with the USPTO doesn’t mean you have no legal recourse if someone rips off your podcast name.
On the other hand, if you’re not based in the U.S., or if your podcast has a substantial audience in another country, it may be advisable to apply right away in that country, as they may have a “first to file” system (definitely consult a trademark attorney about that.)
If you already have a well-known brand, and you’re leveraging that brand on your new podcasting journey, then applying to register with the USPTO may be wise because your brand already has value and you are a potential target for trademark infringers.
But for those of us in the U.S. who are just starting out with podcasting, it may not be urgent to apply for a USPTO trademark registration right away. It’s wise to consider registration once your podcast gets some traction and there is a path to monetization.
Whether or not to apply for a trademark registration is a decision you need to make for your podcast and your business. Again, an experienced trademark attorney can help provide guidance so you can make the best call for you.
What Else Might You Do With This Brand?
The next question to ask is: what else might you do with this brand?
Let’s say your podcast is a success and you have the opportunity to expand your brand into other media.
The same trademark rules we discussed above will apply. So, if there’s any possibility that your podcast might become a brand for other types of goods or services, you want to make sure that the name is “cleared” in those categories as well.
Take a moment and dream big about what spinoff goods or services your podcast might turn into:
- A book?
- A YouTube series?
- Public speaking or hosting conferences?
You never know — a fiction podcast might even turn into a movie or TV show, and a business podcast might turn into a consulting service down the road.
It would be a shame if you never have the chance to leverage your brand in another medium because someone in that space is already using your name.
While we don’t recommend focusing on monetization when you’re first starting a podcast, we do have a list of the top ways to monetize your podcast to help you with some brainstorming.
This should give you a clear picture of some of the possibilities that await once you’ve launched, grown an audience, and are ready to offer a paid product or service to your listeners – if that’s ever something you want to do.
Avoiding legal conflicts
I know all these requirements and considerations can make it more difficult to find a unique brand name that conveys the spirit of your show. My goal here isn’t to scare you, but to provide you with some valuable tools, and hopefully, help you avoid legal conflicts.
Don’t worry: there are plenty of potential names out there!
When podcasts were first getting started in the early 2000’s, who would have predicted one of the biggest successes on the medium would be called WTF? and Serial — isn’t that a high-carb breakfast food?
In all seriousness, the moral of the story is that you’re better off picking a podcast name that’s free from legal conflicts rather than a name that “just sounds perfect,” but someone else is already using.
Other Potential Trademarks
Once you’ve got your podcast name sorted out, it’s time to start thinking about other trademarks you might be developing.
- Your logo might be a trademark if it identifies your brand as the source of goods or services.
- You might have catchphrases you want to trademark.
- Maybe you’re starting a podcast network, and each show has its own name…
If any of these are true, go back to the beginning of this article and start over again.
If you have questions about how you can secure your trademarks, please feel free to contact me.