Should I Assume That If I Form an LLC or Incorporate That No One Else Can Use the Same Name?
Can Two LLCs or Companies Have the Same Name?
Yes, with some exceptions. When you’re forming a corporation or an LLC in a state, the name must be unique to your business within that state. Others can form LLCs and businesses in other states that have the same name as yours. If you want to protect your business name across all states, you will need to trademark it.
Let’s break it down.
LLC and Corporate Names in Your State Must Be Unique to Your Business
LLCs and corporations are formed on a “by state” basis. The business formation bodies in these states (typically the Secretary of State or Corporation Division) insist that every business has a unique name. If your business doesn’t have a unique name, your formation documents will be rejected.
Having an identical name to another business isn’t the only way to get rejected. If it’s similar to another name and might cause confusion between an existing business and your new business, you won’t be able to use the name.
For example, you want to create an LLC in New Jersey called “Marvelous Machine” but find out there’s already a business called “Marvelous Machines.” It’s likely that the Secretary of State may reject your name due to it being too close to the original name.
Additional Naming Rules for Creating a Unique Business Name
There are some additional rules, too, and you can’t use any of the following factors to say your business name is unique:
Just Small Changes to a Business Name May Make It Unique
It’s common for business formation bodies to accept a name as unique if it differs only slightly from an existing name. This could be as small as adding another word or changing a word slightly. We’ve got some helpful hints on creating a good business name.
For example, you might be able to create an LLC in New Jersey called “Marvelous Machine Shop” or “Marvelous Machinery.”
Learn If Your Business Name Is Already in Use in Your State
The quickest and easiest way to learn if there’s an existing business with your proposed name in your state is to use our business name search tool. It’s completely free, and you can search the business registry of any state and search for corporation and LLC names. We always recommend checking for business name availability. If the name is not available, try making it unique by changing the wording, adding additional words or changing the name entirely.
We would also suggest searching for website URLs and social media accounts to see if there are countries elsewhere in the U.S. or the world that are already using the name.
If You Want to Use a Business Name That’s Already Used Elsewhere
If someone else is already using your business name but they are formed in a different state, you may be able to use their name in your state if the name is not trademarked. You can search for names across states with our tool. If you find that someone else is using the name, check whether they have trademarked it. If not, you can form a business with that unique name in your state.
Remember: if you want to expand into other states later, you will need to check that the name is not already in use there.
Two Businesses Can Have the Same Name in Different States
Because naming rules are limited to one state, businesses formed in different states can have identical names.
However, this can cause problems such as:
- Customers not being able to tell the businesses apart.
- Inability to use your company name for a unique website address.
- Inability to use your company name to get social media accounts.
Protecting Your Business Name Across Multiple States
If you want to protect your business name throughout the U.S., you can do that by filing a trademark. You might think a copyright or patent is appropriate, but they’re used for different purposes:
- Patents protect inventions, not the name of a business.
- Copyrights protect creative works and won’t protect the name of your business.
- “A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Some examples include brand names, slogans, and logos.”
Once you’ve trademarked a name, it’s protected across the U.S., and if another business were to infringe on your trademark, you’d have legal recourse.
Here at Incfile, we provide a complete Trademark Search and Registration service that you can use to protect your business name in the U.S.
Duplicate Business Name Takeaways
- LLCs and corporations are formed on a state-by-state basis.
- The business name you use in a state must be unique within that state.
- Businesses can have identical names if they are formed in different states.
- You should check if other businesses have the same or similar names using our tool.
- If you want to use a business name that’s used elsewhere, check if it’s available in your state and any states you’re expanding into. Check if the other business has trademarked their name.
- If you want to protect your name across all 50 states, use our Trademark Search and Registration service.