When you’re about to launch your company, choosing a name is at the top of the list of tasks. However, to be safe, first you need to check that it doesn’t violate any existing trademarks. If it does, you could face a lawsuit.
Furthermore, if there’s a name you love, it would be a good idea to avoid creating any marketing materials or building a website until you’ve run it through a business name checker. Otherwise, you may have to rework everything, losing money in the process.
In this post, we discuss how to check if a business name is taken. You’ll then learn how you can register your business name to protect it.
Here are some methods for ascertaining if a business name is taken.
Each US state has an agency responsible for business filings that allows you to check if a business name is already in use. You either make a formal request using a form – the old-fashioned way – or you search its publicly available databases online. If you search online, it will take mere seconds to find out whether your company name is taken.
If you find a name that is similar to yours, but not the same, you’ll want to check your state’s rules for what is acceptable, and what is not. For instance, you may not be allowed to register the name MacDonald’s because it is too similar to McDonald’s. As each state has slightly different rules, if in doubt, contact an attorney.
Whenever companies create a new trademark, they add it to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) register, which becomes searchable by anyone in the business community. A trademark business name check is a nationwide, federal-level check that allows you to see all of the current trademarks.
You’re most likely to run into trademark business name problems if:
If you aren’t sure whether the name resembles an existing firm’s, then you will need to speak with a trademarking lawyer. They can provide you with further advice.
Some states require businesses to register under a fictitious name with either the county or the city. Companies don’t always use these names for customer-facing purposes, but they do for registration. As such, they often have common law rights to their fictitious names, so you will need to avoid using them.
You can look for DBA name availability by checking DBA registrations. There might be businesses operating in the local area with names similar to the one that you want, even if they do not use them for their brand.
While Google shouldn’t be your primary means of checking business name availability, it can be a helpful tool. State and national registers may contain errors or incorrect details for some trademarks in operation. Some firms might also be using trademarks that they never registered.
Besides, you may simply wish to check what Google results come up when you type in your company name ideas. You may find, for instance, that:
You can also perform a Google Domain search to find available business names. This lets you see whether anyone else has registered the URL of your business name. For example, if you are a bookkeeper, you might want www.ABCBookkeeping.com as your URL, so it’s worth checking out if the domain is free.
Sometimes you will discover that the company name is available on official registers but that the domain is already taken. This could be because the company went out of business but still owns the URLs, or it could mean that somebody took the name in the hope of selling it for a higher price later on. Either way, you may want to reconsider the name if the domain has been claimed or is behind a high paywall.
In the US, there are four ways to register a business name.
Entity names protect the name of your business at the state level. However, whether you need to register legally depends on the state in question.
Business name registration allows the state to identify your business. Most states only permit you to take available business names, though there are exceptions.
Once you have a company name and register it with the relevant formation agency, you have the protection of that name. Your business will appear in the register whenever other entrepreneurs check company name availability.
States, cities, and counties sometimes require business owners to register their DBA name with them, sometimes called a trade name, or fictitious name. DBA names don’t provide legal protection, but many jurisdictions require them for setting up a business.
Even if you don’t have to set up a DBA by law, it might still be a good idea. DBAs can shield your personal identity from your business name, making you less searchable online. Setting one up also entitles you to a federal tax ID number (EIN) which you can then use to open a business bank account.
States typically allow more leeway for DBAs than for entities. For instance, you can be broader in your descriptions of your business's function.
Registering your domain name is essential for the online presence of your business. Ideally, you want a URL that reflects the branding, nature, and mission of your firm. Website names don’t need to be identical to your company name, and are acceptable as long as users can easily recognize that they are linked to your business.
Domain names, like trademarks, can last as long as you own them. However, you will need to pay an annual fee to an online register to keep your site.
Businesses register domain names through registrar services, so you’ll need to pick a reliable registrar from an approved directory.
Lastly, trade name registration is also important. You can use it to protect the name of your business, goods, and services at the federal level.
For instance, Microsoft Corporation is the entity name, while Dynamics 365 is a trademarked service name. Nobody else in the computer software industry can use Dynamics 365 to name their products. If they do, they risk infringement lawsuits.
Trademarking is an effective way to prevent competitors from stealing your ideas. Once your names are in the USPTO’s official trademark database, you can launch lawsuits against any company that copies them.
Once you've selected a suitable business name, you must register it. Here’s a summary of what you need to do:
You can choose the same name for each registration or opt for a different one for every task.
Once you know how to check if a business name is taken, you can proceed with launching your business operations. Make sure that you consult all the registers described here, both at the state and federal levels, before taking the plunge and opening up your business to the public. This kind of caution is indispensable for ensuring you’re not using a trademarked name, as you could face hefty damages if you are.
No. Before you select a name for your LLC, you will need to perform an LLC name search in relevant state-wide and federal registers. To do this, go to your state’s formation website and look for the search option. If one is not available, follow instructions for contacting the agency. Then check the national USPTO database to verify that the LLC name is available.
You can find inspiration for company names in many places. Start by brainstorming names, words, concepts, and people related to your business. Then try recombining words, perhaps in a way that sounds witty. After that, ask your friends and family for feedback to see how the name really comes across.
You can check if a business name is taken by accessing your state’s company formation website and performing a search. You should also check the national USPTO register and perform a Google search to see whether anyone else is already using your name.
Danica’s greatest passion is writing. From small businesses, tech, and digital marketing, to academic folklore analysis, movie reviews, and anthropology — she’s done it all. A literature major with a passion for business, software, and fun new gadgets, she has turned her writing craft into a profitable blogging business. When she’s not writing for SmallBizGenius, Danica enjoys hiking, trying to perfect her burger-making skills, and dreaming about vacations in Greece.
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