Before you start ordering signs and business cards, you should make sure your name isn’t already being used by another business. If you choose a name that’s already in use, you’ll have trouble forming a business entity and you may be infringing another company’s trademarks.
Why should you check business name availability?
To form a business entity such as a corporation, limited liability company, or nonprofit corporation, you must file formation documents with your state.
That means you can’t choose a name that’s identical to another business entity’s name, or that is only different because of an “s” on the end or a different business entity identifier. For example, you probably can’t form a business called “Festive Party Supplies, Inc.” if there is already a “Festive Party Supply, LLC” in your state.
By checking available business names before you file your paperwork, you’ll avoid having your entity formation request denied because of naming problems.
In addition, a more comprehensive business name search can identify additional businesses that may be using the name you’ve chosen and that may have trademark rights in the name. These additional searches help you minimize the chance that another business owner will accuse you of trademark infringement and ask you to stop using the name after you have already spent time and money marketing it.
How to check if a business name is taken
Every state has a secretary of state or other state agency that’s responsible for business entity filings. In most states, the website of the state business filing agency includes an online entity name check tool. You can use the online tool to search business names and find out whether another business is already using the name you have chosen.
If you find a business with a similar name, it’s a good idea to review your state’s specific business naming requirements to find out if the similarity will prevent you from using the name you want.
Just because there isn’t a business entity with the same name in your state doesn’t mean there are no similarly named local businesses. Corporations, LLCs, sole proprietors and partnerships may all operate under fictitious business names, or “DBAs.
Many localities require businesses that operate under a fictitious name to register a business name with the city or county. By checking these DBA registrations, you can find out whether there is another business in your area using the name you want to use.
A business that has registered a DBA may have common law trademark rights in the business name, and it may have established strong local name recognition that could make it harder to market your business.
Trademark business name check
Businesses can obtain nationwide trademark protection by registering a business name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When starting a new business, it’s a good idea to search the USPTO’s online database for trademarked business names that are similar to yours.
A trademarked business name can cause you problems if the name itself is similar to your business name, and if it has been registered as a trademark for a similar type of goods or services. If you conduct a search and are concerned that the name you want to use may violate someone else’s trademark, it’s worth getting advice from a trademark lawyer before you go any further.
General business name availability searches
A general internet search will help you evaluate whether another business has established a strong internet presence using the business name you’d like to use. A business that’s using your name online may have established common law or state law trademark rights in the name and may have already registered domain names and social networking profiles to match the business name – making it harder for you to market your business with the same name.
“Is my business name taken?” is an important question for new business owners to answer before they form a business entity or spend money on marketing. Taking the time to do a proper name search can save you a lot of hassle, time, and money later.
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