Iowa Business Name Search (Step-by-Step Guide)
Even with the help of business services through the Secretary of State, registering a business has financial consequences. Always discuss business setup with a business attorney.
How to search for Iowa business names
Iowa makes name availability searches for business entity names easy. Before a prospective business owner can register a business, he must ensure that another entity is not using the name. If the search tool does not show exact matches, the business owner must go through the list of results to ensure that no similar matches exist. For example, if the business owner wants to name his business ABC Widgets, LLC, he cannot use it if someone else is using ABC Widgets, Inc. or The ABC Widgets, Inc.
If the name has ABC in it but not ‘widgets,’ the name is most likely available. To search business names in Iowa:
- Step 1: Navigate to the Iowa Secretary of State’s search tool.
- Step 2: Enter the business name.
- Step 3: Click the ‘Search’ button.
- Step 4: Review the results. If no results display, the name is most likely available.
How to register a business name in Iowa
To register an Iowa business entity, a prospective business owner must create an account with the Secretary of State’s office. Once a business owner registers, he can create an Iowa business entity of his choice.
If a business owner does not know which entity is best for him, he should contact a business law attorney. Some entities are taxed at the business level, then again at the personal level, and some are pass-through entities—the business owners claim profits on their personal tax returns.
Additionally, certain entities offer personal asset protection from creditors and lawsuits, while others do not. A business law attorney will go over all of the benefits of the various entities and will help you choose the best entity for your company.
Iowa trademark/DBA name search
A business owner might wish to register a trade name, logo, or trademark for her business. Before a business can register the intellectual property with the State of Iowa, it must search the Iowa trademark database to ensure that intellectual property does not exist.
If a business is going so far as to register intellectual property in Iowa, we recommend that it also check the federal trademark database. To search Iowa trademarks:
- Step 1: Navigate to the Iowa Secretary of State’s trademark search tool.
- Step 2: Enter a trademark name or description in the box marked ‘Search by Trademark Name/Description.’
- Step 3: For the search type, ensure the radio button labeled ‘Starts with’ is selected.
- Step 4: Click the ‘Search’ button.
- Step 5: Review the results.
- Step 6: If the trademark search does not display results, repeat the search, except ensure the radio button labeled ‘Contains’ is selected.
When a business owner uses ‘Starts with,’ the system limits the results to trademarks that start with the search criteria he entered. By selecting ‘Contains,’ any trademark that contains the search criteria entered will display.
If a business owner wishes to determine whether a business name or logo has been trademarked at the federal level, search the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Check if the domain name is available
Before a business registers its name, the business owner should take additional steps to ensure that the name is available for domain and social media use. While the domain name and social media accounts or pages do not have to have the same name as the business, it is better for marketing purposes. If another person or entity is already using the name, a prospective business owner can choose another name to register at the state level or use a different name that describes the business for the domain name and social media accounts.
Businesses with an internet presence can expand their sales throughout the nation and even internationally. The ultimate scenario is having a domain name that is the same as the business name.
However, domain name regulations are not the same as business registry regulations – they are a lot looser. A business owner might search for a domain name only to find that another business is using it. Most likely, that business has the same business name in another state.
If a domain name is not available
A business owner has three choices:
- Choose another name for the business if you haven’t already registered with the Iowa Secretary of State.
- Use a descriptive term as the domain name.
- Use a similar name.
If a business owner chooses to use a similar name, it should not pick a domain name that is so similar that it allows customers to become confused – the prospective business owner will end up losing customers to the other business’s website.
To see if a domain name is available, navigate to any domain registry, such as GoDaddy, and enter the business name in the search box.
If the name is not available as a dot-com but is available as a dot-net, we do not recommend using it, as customers will end up at the competitor’s website. Instead, choose one of the above options.
Check if the social media name is available
It’s even more difficult to obtain an account name that is the same as the business name on social media since there are no true restrictions. A business owner can try to find a name that is available in the state, as a domain name and on social media platforms.
However, life is much simpler if the business owner uses the unavailability of a domain name or social media account as a way to advertise by choosing a name that describes the business.
Naming considerations for Iowa business entities
A business owner must append a phrase, word, or abbreviation to the business name as dictated by Iowa Statutes. The appended naming convention tells government agencies and the public what type of business you have. Entity types include corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, nonprofits, and sole proprietorships. The state has additional entities, such as co-operations (co-ops), which are not as common.
Sole proprietorships and partnerships
Sole proprietorships and general partnerships do not have to register with the Iowa Secretary of State. They must use the owner’s full name for sole proprietorships and all of the partners’ surnames for general partnerships.
However, if either business entity does not wish to do business under its real name, the business owner can register for a ‘doing business as’ name. The name is not a bona fide entity and offers no protection for personal assets.
Sole proprietorships and general partnerships must search the Iowa Secretary of State’s search tool to ensure the name is not in use. If the name is available, the business must register the name with the county recorder’s office for the county where the business is located.
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)
A limited liability company must append one of the following to its name:
- Limited liability company.
- Limited company.
The business can abbreviate ‘limited’ as ‘Ltd.’ It can also abbreviate ‘company’ as ‘Co.’
Limited liability partnerships
Limited liability partnerships must append one of the following to its name:
- Registered limited liability partnership.
- Limited liability partnership.
A limited partnership must append one of the following to its name:
- Limited partnership.
A limited partnership is not the same as a limited liability partnership. A limited partnership cannot use LLLP, L.L.L.P. or ‘limited liability partnership.’
Corporations, including nonprofit corporations, must append one of the following to their names:
Professional corporations, including those using fictitious names or trade names, whether domestic or foreign corporations, must append one of the following to their names:
- Professional corporation.
How are business licenses obtained in Iowa?
Iowa does not require businesses to have a general business license. Instead, business owners should check their cities and counties for business license requirements. Business owners should also check with various agencies related to their industries to ensure that a specific industry doesn’t require a business license or permit.
Does my business need a Federal Employer Identification Number?
Every business with employees must have a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). However, banks, creditors, and vendors might require a business with no employees to apply for a FEIN before working with the business. A prospective business owner can apply for a FEIN herself or we can obtain the FEIN for you.
Does my business have to have a registered agent?
Yes, if the business is registered with the Iowa Secretary of State. The registered agent must be in the office during all business hours. A business owner can be his own registered agent, but would not be able to leave the office during business hours. A registered agent service alleviates that problem.
Do I have to reserve my business name before I register?
No. However, a business owner can reserve a name if he is not ready to register the entity yet.
What does a registered agent do?
The registered agent accepts documents from the Iowa Secretary of State, other government agencies, and lawsuits (service of process)d filed against the business. It ensures that the business filings and other documents are received on time, and forwarded to the business owner or CEO. The registered agent will also notify the business of the annual report due date.
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