How to Check if a Business Name is Taken

April 24, 2023

The last thing you want to do is start your business name registration process, and find out that your business name is already taken.

Checking business name availability needs to be hand in hand with your planning about how to create a business name. Businesses often select names that are specific to their industry. For example, jewelry business names tend to include terms like jewelers, while notary business names often include professional phrases.

As a business owner, you need to make sure your business entity has a name that defines it, with strong local name recognition – and a business name that has not yet been used.

Why You Should Check if a Business Name is Taken

You’ll be registering your business name with your Secretary of State agency. If an existing business name matches yours – or is even close to matching yours, the Secretary of State will reject it as you make your entity formation request with the business name.

So before heading to the Secretary of State filing office, or starting the process online, you need to do a business name availability search. Do that before you order the business cards and stationary and before you start a bank account in your business name.

What Happens If a Business Has the Same Name?

If you file formation documents with the Secretary of State and the business name is already taken, your application will be rejected. You can’t legally use the same name.

If it’s your heart’s desire to use that name, you should research how to buy a business name. It is possible to do that, and you’ll need the services of a lawyer who specializes in the field.

Does The Type of Business Entity Make a Difference?

Not all entities need to register their business name. It depends on the business entity type.

A business that is a Limited Liability Company, limited partnership or corporation will need to register with its Secretary of State. In order to do that, the business must have a name.

Sole proprietors do not need to register their business with the state and can operate with unregistered business names.

How To See if a Business Name is Taken

Here are the places where you can check business name availability.

Check The Federal Trademark Database

Use the United States Patent and trademark office database to do a business name search and trademark search. Trademarked business names and registered trademarks (brands) will be listed on the federal database. Once you’ve done the trademark business name search, you should take steps to get your own trademarked business name, using the same website for the USPTO.

If you don’t take this step, and start using another business entity’s trademarked names, you could get hit with a trademark infringement lawsuit for using someone else’s trademark rights. Trademark infringement laws are clear and trademark rights violations can be costly, even if you inadvertently use someone else’s trademark.

Once you’ve used the search tools and know your business entity’s name is available, you can trademark your desired business name. You may want to involve a specialist in trademark law, a trademark lawyer. That way you will obtain nationwide trademark protection and own the common law trademark rights for your new business.

Check The DBA Registrations

DBA stands for “Doing Business As.” Many business names are “fictitious” names. For example, a group of people who own a business entity that’s a mobile hotdog stand. They decide it will be a business with a fictitious name called Reliable Dogs.

As they begin the process of business entity filings, they check DBA registrations and find there’s another fictitious name for a business called Reliable Dogs, which is a dog training business. Even though the business entities have entirely different operations, with neither a competing business, they can’t share the DBA name.

County and localities require businesses to register fictitious names. Your Secretary of State will have a database for a new business to check to see if its proposed business name is taken, and you should also check with your county clerk’s office for that company name.

Use an Online Tool to Perform a Business Name Search

You should do a general internet search. There could be an unregistered business, such as a sole proprietor, using the same company name. You can use a search tool such as Google for a quick screening search.

Check Domain Name Availability

A Domain name is a unique address for a website. Another business, even if it doesn’t have the same business name or trade name as yours, may already be using your desired domain name.

The best way to find out if another business has your name is the use ICANN, which is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Your domain name is extremely important because it’s what pops up when a customer uses search tools and enters a search term. It’s vital for a company that uses e-commerce.

Check Business Name Availability on Social Media

Check all the popular social media sites to check your business name availability.

Search Business Names That Are Similar

If a business name is different but similar to yours, you may want to go back to the drawing board before cementing your company’s legal name. The Secretary of State may not accept your filing, plus, it can be bad for your business as it may be confusing to customers.

Finding Your Local Trademark Office

You can find your local trademark office doing a federal search using the USPTO website.

What To Do if Your Business Name is Available

Now you’re ready for the next step, how to register a business name.

The Bottom Line

The search may take time, but it’s important to find out if your business name is available. It’s not something you want to find out after you’ve started using it. The guide above can help you register your small business properly.

Checking if a Business Name is Taken: FAQs

No matter where you live, you need to check with your Secretary of State. And you also need to check the USPTO, Domain Names, DBA registrations, county and local entities, the web and social media sites.

Can There Be Two Businesses With the Same Name?

Yes, if a business is a sole proprietorship and has not been registered with a Secretary of State. That’s why many sole proprietors choose to form an LLC and register with the state.

Image: Envato Elements

This article, “How to Check if a Business Name is Taken” was first published on Small Business Trends

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