Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania business names
Before filing a business entity name in Pennsylvania, business owners should search the Pennsylvania Department of State’s office for name availability. If the system returns an exact match or a name that is too similar, the business owner will have to choose another name for the business. To search the Pennsylvania Department of State:
- Step 1: Navigate to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s search tool to start entering search criteria.
- Step 2: Enter the business name in the box labeled ‘Business Entity Name / ID.’
- Step 3: Choose the search type. For the first search, use ‘Starting with.’
- Step 4: Make sure the box for ‘Active Only’ is not checked.
- Step 5: Click the ‘Search’ button.
- Step 6: Review the list of results for exact matches and names that are similar.
- Step 7: Repeat the search using ‘Any words’ instead of ‘Starting with.’
- Step 8: Review the list of results for exact matches and names that are similar.
If the system doesn’t return an exact match or a name that is too similar, the business owner can move on to the next part of the business name research.
How to register a business name in Pennsylvania
To create a business entity in Pennsylvania, the business owner should register online. It is quicker to file, and the business entity gets processed faster. To create a business entity online, the business owner must create an account with Pennsylvania’s One-Stop Keystone system.
Pennsylvania trademark/DBA name search
Pennsylvania doesn’t have a trademark search. The state does allow businesses to file a trademark, though it isn’t mandatory. Should a business owner wish to file a trademark in Pennsylvania, she must complete the Trademark Application form. Mail the trademark application, attachments, and the filing fee to the Pennsylvania Department of State, Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations, PO Box 8722, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8722.
If a business owner wishes to protect intellectual property, she should file the intellectual property with the US. Patent and Trademark Office. 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.
The internet is often one of the least expensive forms of marketing if a business owner can do much of the work herself. Even if the business owner doesn’t plan on having an internet store, the presence in the form of a webpage and social media accounts can drive business to the physical store.
To check for domain name availability, navigate to a domain registry such as GoDaddy. Enter the business name in the domain registry’s search box. The system will advise as to name availability.
If a domain name is not available
If the name is unavailable as a dot-com but is available as a dot-net or another extension, we do not recommend using it – customers will be confused. They will end up on a competitor’s site.
If the name is available, we recommend reserving the dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org extensions. A business owner can create landing pages on the dot-net and dot-org pages that point back to the dot-com main page.
Check if the social media name is available
Checking for business name availability on social media sites is similar to finding the name on a domain registry. Enter the business name in the platform’s search box. If the name is available, create an account for the business as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that anyone can use the business name, even in the same state. Often, a business in another state or even another part of the world will have the same business name since they are not required to register the name in Pennsylvania unless they have a presence in the state.
Naming considerations for Pennsylvania business entities
Pennsylvania requires businesses to append certain words, phrases or abbreviations to corporations, but not limited liability companies and limited partnerships.
Sole proprietorships and partnerships
A sole proprietorship or general partnership is not required to register with the Pennsylvania Department of State. However, if a sole proprietorship or a general partnership wishes to use a fictitious name, it must register the fictitious name with the Department of State.
Sole proprietorships and general partnerships do not offer personal asset protection from creditors and lawsuits. If a business owner wishes to keep personal assets away from the business, he should consider another entity, such as a limited liability company or a corporation.
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)
A limited liability company offers asset protection as long as the business owner does not comingle business and personal funds. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) taxes this entity on a business owner’s personal tax return.
While no statute states that a limited liability company must append an entity type to the end of its name, many people do. A business owner could use ‘limited liability company’ or ‘LLC.’
A corporation must append one of the following to its name:
Pennsylvania does not require nonprofits to append one of the above to its business entity name, even if the nonprofit is a limited liability company or a limited liability partnership.
How are business licenses obtained in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania does not require businesses to have a general statewide business license. However, certain industries must have a license or permit. Additionally, local jurisdictions might require a business to have a license or permit. Business owners can check with the county clerk regarding local business licenses.
Does my business need a registered agent?
If the business is registered with the Pennsylvania Department of State, it needs a registered agent. The registered agent accepts service of process and other legal documents on behalf of the business. It also affords the business owner privacy for legal matters and ensures the business remains in compliance with state regulations.
Does my business need a Federal Employer Identification Number?
Businesses with employees must obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). However, certain banks, vendors, and creditors might require a business with no employees to obtain a FEIN to do business. A business owner can apply for a FEIN, or we can obtain the FEIN for the business owner.
How do I find out if a creditor placed a lien on my business or business property?
Navigate to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s UCC filing and search pages. Select the radio button for ‘Debtor.’ Change ‘Search Type’ to “Starts With.” Ensure the radio button for ‘Organization’ is selected. Enter the business name and click search. If a business owner wants to search by his name, select the radio button for ‘Individual’ instead of ‘Organization.’
How do I apply for verification or certification of a business license?
Navigate to the Department of State’s license verification page. Click the blue ‘Click to Search for Person / Facility License’ button. Enter the details about the license, including the license type and the license holder’s city, state, and zip code. Click the ‘Search’ button.
Does my business have to file an annual report?
Some businesses must file an annual report, but most file decennial reports on years ending with ‘1.’ Businesses file decennial reports in 2011, 2021, 2031, etc. Decennial reports must be mailed to the PA Department of State, PO Box 8722, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8722.
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