Business Name Search: How to Check if a Business Name is Taken
The business name is the business’s reputation. It will be on documents, marketing, contracts, products, filings with local, state, and federal governments, services, and taxes. The name should separate you from competitors and make people think of your product or service when they hear the name.
Once a person decides to start a business, he has several steps to take before registering the business, including running a business name search and ensuring it has not been used by someone else.
When choosing the business name, it is imperative that the business owner choose wisely, as it becomes the business’s brand – it is how people relate to the business. The name should be short enough to make it easy to remember, it should be the first thing people think of when they think of the product or service the business offers, and should not be close enough to another business’s name that people can confuse it with the other business, especially if the similar business has a less than stellar reputation.
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Types of names
The rules for registering a business name depend on the type of business entity you choose. Business filings for the various types of business structures are also different, as is how the IRS taxes the business. When choosing a business name, you must consider all of these factors, including the name type attached to the business name. For example, if a business owner wants XYZ Corp., she cannot be a sole proprietor.
A business owner can choose from a main name or a “doing business as” name, often referred to as a DBA. If you are a sole proprietor, you might choose a DBA because some states require a sole proprietor to use only her given name. Thus, instead of Jane Doe, you might register a DBA of Doe’s Accounting Services if the business is a sole proprietorship.
LLCs and DBAs
If the business owner plans on incorporating or using another entity, such as a limited liability company, he can also use a DBA.
For example, he might choose Doe’s Farms DBA Tall Tree Logging and Forestry Services since Doe’s Farms doesn’t really describe what you do.
The benefit of this is that a business owner can also create another business under the same name if the state laws allow it.
For example, if the business owner logs and provides forestry services in spring, summer and fall, but in the winter months, provides snowplowing instead, the business owner could name that second business Doe’s Farms DBA Clear It Snow Plowing.
Registering a personal name
While most states do not require a business owner to register her personal name, if the business owner adds to it, he might want to register it. Additionally, some states do not require that the business create a company if it uses a DBA but might or might not require the business to register the DBA name.
Even if the state does not require a business to register a DBA name, it is recommended that the business do so, or else someone else could use the same name.
Opening a bank account with the business name
Finally, if the business owner wants to open a separate bank account for the business name “John Doe,” the bank might require you to register the name, even if the business is not using a DBA.
Other types of entities include corporations, limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships, general partnerships, and nonprofit corporations.
Registering your name
Every state has rules and regulations regarding registering business names. A business entity name must contain the type of entity. For example, if a business owner chooses to incorporate as a limited liability company, it must have LLC, L.L.C., or limited liability company in the trade name.
Always check the state’s rules, as they are different for each state.
For example, if the business owner wants to register a DBA in Florida, she would file a fictitious name registration. This does not create a company. If the business owner wants to create a company – corporation, limited liability company, etc., she registers the name at the time she creates the company.
Some states might not allow you to reserve a name while others might require a business owner to file an application for the DBA name just as you would if you were incorporating the primary name.
Additionally, some states allow business owners to reserve a name. Always review your state’s rules for reservations – they sometimes expire. If the name reservation expires before the business owner can register the name, another person or company could use the name.
Checking domain names
If a business owner plans on having an online presence, he should also check with a domain registrar to see if the online name has been taken. Businesses and individuals do not have to register a name with the state to use it online. Thus, Joe’s Tree Service could be taken online.
To check if a domain name is available, visit any of the domain registrar’s sites – GoDaddy is a popular site – to check if the business name is available. The domain name does not need to be the same as the registered business name. Thus, if the name for Joe’s Tree Service – joestreeservice.com – is taken, a business owner could use joestreecuttingservice.com or another form of the name.
Searching additional states
A business owner can search most state databases online to determine whether the name is available. Additionally, most states allow a business owner to incorporate online.
Always do a business name search for name availability before naming your business as no state will allow you to use a business name that is already in use.
Registering a business name in another state
Some companies prefer to set up in another state, usually because another state’s tax rules and corporate rules are better for businesses than the state where the business owner lives. For example, a business owner in New York might prefer to set up a limited liability company in Delaware.
Should a business owner decide to incorporate in another state, she must follow that state’s rules for setting up the company. Another state might require a business owner to reserve a name, then register it, or might skip the reservation process. Regardless of which state a business chooses, the name cannot be the same as another business name in that state. Since the business will be doing business in the home state, the name should also be available in the home state. We recommend filing a reservation of a foreign name in the home state.
Additionally, make sure the name you choose is not a similar name for another business. You not only confuse people and could lose customers because of the confusion, but you could cause a business with a similar name to file a lawsuit against you.
Since the corporate name is your brand, it is sometimes good to register the company name as a trademark. However, if a business owner registers it at the state level, it does not prevent someone in another state from using the name. The only way to do that is to file a federal trademark.
Filing a federal trademark is not difficult, but getting the application approved is. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has several rules one must abide by in order to successfully trademark a business name, including that it cannot be similar to another name. It is always best to get an intellectual property attorney involved if one wants to file a trademark.
Checking state and federal databases ensures that you do not commit trademark infringement by picking a name that is similar or the same as another business’s name. Because federal trademarks are sometimes difficult to search, a business might consider hiring an intellectual property attorney to complete a search of the trademark database at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
What if my business name is taken?
If the business name the business owner chooses is taken, the business owner must come up with a different name. It should not be too similar to the taken name. Some states will not allow the name if it is too similar, but more importantly, a business owner does not want a name that the public can confuse with another business, especially if that other business’s reputation is not stellar.
When a business has a name similar to another business, it is too easy for people to go to the other business instead of yours. Additionally, the other business could sue you if the name is too similar.
Tips for naming a business
A business name should be catchy while at the same time describing the products or services the business offers. Some tips for creating a business legal name include:
- Choose two or three possible names. If one is taken, you have a second one to fall back on. Even if the first name is available from the state, it might not be available online.
- If the business is mostly or all online, see which keywords are associated with the business description. If a business owner can work high placing keywords into the business name, it will go to the top of the search engines with less work.
- Make sure the business name is not too difficult to incorporate into a logo and other branding.
- Ensure the business name is easy to pronounce and spell.
- Pick a name that is easy for people to remember.
- Make sure the name matches the tone of the business and that it describes what the business sells.
- Check to see that the domain name for the business name – or something close to it – is available.
- Check for the name on social media – if it’s taken, you might want to try another name since social media is a good marketing tool.
- Ensure the name is unique with the state. If a business owner plans on trademarking the name at the federal level, the name must be available and unique at the federal level.
- Make sure the name has certain words as required by the state. For example, if a business owner decides to register as a limited liability company, the name must include LLC, LLC, Limited Liability Corporation, or some form of LLC as allowed by the state.
- Make sure the name is not similar to state or federal agencies, such as FDA, police, etc.
- Ensure that the name does not suggest that the business is affiliated with an organization, state or federal agency.
- Ensure that the name does not imply the business does anything illegal.
- Once you choose a name and a logo for your brand, obtain business cards so that you can start networking as soon as possible.
How does a business owner search for a name in the state?
Go to the Secretary of State’s website. Look for the search function. For example, a prospective business in Florida would go to Sunbiz.org and click “Search Records.” You can then search for a business name, registered agent, registered agent name, and trademark name. If the name comes up, it is taken, and you must choose another name.
Does a business owner have to reserve a business name?
In most states, a business owner does not have to reserve the name prior to registering it. However, we recommend that you register the name if you are not ready to register the company. If you do not reserve the name, someone else could use it.
How can a business owner make sure the name is not used anywhere in the United States?
A prospective business owner can search each state individually or search the USPTO database. However, if another business is using the name in another state and does not trademark it, the business owner can use the same name but will not be able to trademark it at the federal level.
If I file a trademark in my state, does that protect a business nationwide?
No. If a business owner wants to protect the business name nationally, it must file a trademark with the USPTO. We recommend searching the USPTO before registering a business name with the state to ensure that someone in another state has not registered a trademark for the same name.
Can a business have the word “Company” in it?
A business can only have the word “Company” if it is incorporated or is being used as part of the phrase “Limited Liability Company.”
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