Picking the right name for your business is one of the first critical decisions you will make for your new venture. You want to select a name that illustrates your industry, field or expertise while being memorable and relevant to your customers or clientele.
You may think you've found the perfect name, but before you launch your business, you need to make sure someone else hasn't already claimed it. You'll need to verify that it is unique and does not violate trademark law by being too similar to the name of an existing business, in your state or any other, and whose operations are in close relation to your product or service. Conducting a thorough due diligence check before registering the business entity or buying the domain name will help you avoid future costs in marketing, rebranding and even a possible lawsuit.
Begin with a short list of possible names and conduct a basic search online. Any similarities to your chosen moniker will likely show up here. You should investigate further to see if that business offers a product or service comparable to yours. If there are no readily apparent matches, it does not necessarily mean you are in the clear. Continue your investigation by entering your business name in more specific and targeted databases such as:
- U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
- Network Solutions
- U.S. Patent and Trademark
All of the above databases offer a variety of ways to locate a matching or similar business name before you commit to it. To be sure that you are in no danger of encroaching on a business name or trademark, also search for variations in spelling or wording of your selected business name.
When you are nearly certain you can use your business name, go to the Small Business Administration's website and find the contact information for each state's secretary of state's online business registry database. Search your selection as well as variations in each one. If there are no matches, then move to checking with your county clerk's list of Doing Business As (DBA) names.
Should you discover that your preferred name is being used already, do not lose hope. You may still be able to use it if you are offering a clearly different product or service or are in different states. You can contact your state's secretary of state's corporations division and work with them to determine that you meet the legal requirements to still use the name.
Once you have confirmed that you can use your preferred business name, it's wise to register it right away, even if you are not ready to conduct business operations. That name may not be available six weeks or six months from now, and the small cost of ensuring it is yours to use early in your preparation will be worth it. You can register it through your county clerk office or state government. Procedures will vary depending on your chosen type of legal entity (sole proprietor, corporation, etc.). Most states require you to at least register as a DBA if you are conducting business under any name other than your given legal name.
Starting a new business is exciting, and you may have your heart set on a particular name. But don't get so caught up in the excitement that you don't conduct a thorough search and legal verification of your right to use that name. The name will be the cornerstone of your marketing and branding efforts. By protecting it from the beginning, you ensure it will stand strong against any challenge.