Also known as a "corporate name," "assumed name," or "business name," a trade name is the name under which a company conducts its business. Whereas a trade name identifies the business itself, trademarks identify the goods or services sold by the business. Also, while a corporate name specifically identifies the name of a corporation, a business name, trade name or assumed name can refer to entities that are not corporations.
Trade names frequently receive protection as trademarks, because they often meet the trademark law requirements of use in commerce,distinctiveness, and unobjectionable content. However, unlike a trademark, trade names can obtain protection under the Trademark Actand common law of unfair competition, even if they are not used in direct connection with the sale of goods or services.
A frequent misunderstanding occurs when registering or reserving trade names with the appropriate state governmental agency, e.g. the Secretary of State. In so doing, businesses are often led to believe they have acquired trademark protection. This is not so. States require the registration of trade names when doing business under a name other than a legal name, in order that the true identity of a company/person can be found. A state will register or reserve a trade name as long as it is not identical (or near-identical) to a name already registered. By contrast, a trademark that is far less similar to an existing trademark than "near-identical" can infringe a prior mark.