You have found a great business name. Congratulations! Finding a business name is an important first step toward starting your own business. Now it's time to take the next step, to be sure you can use your business name and protect it, by registering your new name.
Why your Business Name is So Important
Your business name will be on everything:
- Business cards, stationery, and office forms
- All advertising and marketing materials
- Your business formation documents, such as Articles of Organization for an LLC or Articles of Incorporation for a corporation .
- All business loan documents
- Possibly the domain name for your business website
- All contracts and agreements
A business name is registered with the locality and state where the business is organized. If the business operates under another name, it must file a fictitious name ("doing business as")statement.
When to Register Your Business Name
The specific meaning of business name registration is to submit your business name to your state to get it on their registry of business names.
Registration of your business name is a good idea in two specific cases:
- If you are thinking about starting a business but you are not yet sure what legal form you want, and you have a business name, register it. You can always change your mind later, but the registration process will save your name so no one else can use it while you are completing the business organization process.
- If you're forming a sole proprietorship, you should definitely register your business name with the state because sole proprietorships aren't registered in any other way.
What Business Name Registration Is NOT
Registering a business name with a state isn't the same as registering a business legal entity (an LLC, partnership or corporation) with a state. Business registration means sending in an application with information about the business. For example, a corporation registers with a state by completing Articles of Incorporation.
If you are applying to have your LLC, partnership, or corporation registered with your state you don't need to file a separate business name registration application. As part of the incorporation process, most states will automatically register the name. Just to be sure you aren't duplicating another name, you must check your name against the state's business name registry.
Other Business Name Registrations
Registering a Business Name with Your County or City
Registering a business name isn't the same as filing a fictitious name statement (sometimes called a D/B/A). A DBA is filed with your locality to let people know who owns your business.It's required when the official business name is different from the owner's name. For example, a DBA is needed for a business owned by Sam Weeks is doing business as "Happy Hot Dogs."
If your business name is different from the name you are using for advertising and public purposes (your business trade name), you will need to file a "fictitious name" statement, sometimes called a "d/b/a" or "doing business as" statement. This statement is filed in the county where your business is operating. The process of filing a d/b/a or fictitious name statement is one of the first things you should do if you are going to use a trade name that is different from the name you have registered.
Trademarking Your Business Name
Registering a business name is also not the same as trademarking that name. You don't have to have a trademark registered unless you want to be sure others aren't using your name. You register a trademark in the U.S. with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
What If I Don't Register My Business Name?
Here's what can happen if you don't register your business name. Let's say you want to use the name Captain Mark's Seafood and there is already a business in your state named Captain Mack's Seafood.
- The similar names can cause confusion with customers, vendors, and the public. For example, if there is a lawsuit against Captain Mack's, the public might think it's your business.
- If Captain Mack has trademarked his business name, he could sue your business for trademark violation.
Check for Existing Names Before You Register
Before you start using that name, you'll need to be sure no one else is using it by doing research on your business name. That means checking with two government databases:
- Each state has a registry of all businesses registered with that state
- The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a registry of all trademarked names in the U.S.
It's important to check both your state for businesses registered in your state and also the federal trademark databases if your business has an online presence.
How to Register Your Business Name
Registering with Your State
You can register your business name with your state, which is basically a process of reserving it so no one else can use it in your state. Go to the website of your states' business division (usually part of the Secretary of State's office), check for existing names, and follow their organization process.
Registering with a Locality
In addition to registering your business name with your state, you may need to register your business with the city or county where your business is operating. This name registration is called a "doing business as" or business license. The purpose is to let people know who owns your business.
Trademarking Your Business Name
You may also decide that your name is so great that you want to make absolutely sure no one else takes it. The way to do this is to trademark your business name. It's best to create your name in graphic form as a logo, in order to make the trademark more secure.
Registering your business name with your state protects it at the state level.
if you register your business legal entity with your state, you don't have to do a separate business name registration.
Sole proprietors don't register with a state, but they can still register their business name.
Trademarking your name is a separate process through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
A "Doing Business As"/fictitious name registration is in your locality (usually a county) so people will know who owns your business.