We’ve said before that finding the right name for your business is often one of the most challenging and important aspects of owning a company. Now that you’ve found that right name, before you move forward with any business cards, merchandise, signage, etc., you need to be sure you haven’t chosen a business name that’s currently in use. So how do you find out if a business name is taken? We’ll guide you through the process below.
Why Should You Check Business Name Availability?
You should check if your business name is available before you form a business entity such as a corporation, Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Nonprofit and file any official formation documents with your state. State laws require new business names to be different from the names of existing business entities in that state, which means you can’t choose a name that’s the same as another business entity’s name (even if you just add an “s” at the end). For example, you’re usually unable to form a business called “Legacy Flower” if there’s already a “Legacy Flowers.”
Checking available business names before you file your formation paperwork will help you avoid having your entity formation request rejected because of any naming issues.
Another reason to check availability is to see whether the business name you’re searching for has trademark rights associated with it. This will help you minimize the chance that another business owner could accuse you of any sort of trademark infringement. Changing your name after you’ve established a customer base is confusing to the customer, and very costly from a branding and marketing standpoint — so you should try to get it right the first time.
How to Find Out If a Business Name Is Taken
You can find out if a business name is taken by using Incfile's Business Name Search Tool. This tool provides a fast and easy way to look up LLC and corporation names to see if the name you’ve chosen has already been in use by another business.
Let’s say during your search you find a business with a name that's similar (though not identical) to yours. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to review your state’s specific business naming requirements to find out if the similarity prevents you from using the name. This is a state-by-state situation.
DBA or Fictitious Names
A DBA stands for a “Doing Business As” name, which means the operating name of the business is different than the legal name of the business. Many localities require businesses that operate under a fictitious name to register a DBA business name at the city or county level. Checking these DBA registrations will help you find out whether there is another business in your local area using the name you would like to use.
One final note on DBAs: a business that has registered a DBA may have common law trademark rights to the business name and strong local name recognition. This would make it a lot harder to market your business.
Trademarked Business Names
Lastly, you will want to conduct a trademark business name search, which is another layer deeper than a simple business name search. Businesses can obtain nationwide trademark protection by registering a business name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It’s a good idea to search the USPTO’s database for trademarked business names that are the same as yours (or similar to it).
A trademarked business name can cause you a lot of problems, especially if the business offers the same type of goods or services. This is an area where you could consult with a trademark lawyer before you go any further.
As you can see, there are several different types of searches to conduct before you can be 100 percent certain that you can securely and legally use your name of choice. Below is a quick recap to use as a checklist when you begin:
Quick screening search
Fictitious name databases (for DBAs)
Corporation, LLC and limited partnership name databases
Unregistered business names (internet search)
Once you’ve established that you can use the business name of choice, don’t forget to trademark that business name to avoid others taking on ownership or rights to your name. And when you’re ready to form your business, consider Incfile. Incfile will help you choose the right type of entity for starting your new company. With our fast and easy process, you can launch your business today for $0 plus applicable state fees, and you'll get a free Registered Agent for one year.