How to pick and protect your business name

Put a ring on it

Your company’s name is probably the most important element in establishing your brand identity. You may have spent weeks, even months, brainstorming the perfect name from a marketing perspective, and you may used a Business Name Generator for assistance. However, how much time have you spent to make sure that your name is legally available, properly registered, and then protected for the long term? Read on to learn more about these three important steps:

1. Check that your business name is available to use.

After you have found the perfect name for your new business, you need to check its availability and make sure that another business isn’t already using the name for a similar use. Check this as early as possible in the process, well before you invest any time or money in the name.

There’s no single place to search for conflicting business names. Some business owners think that searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is sufficient. But keep in mind that a business can have legal claims on a name just by using it, even if they never register the trademark. This means that you’ll need to use multiple search tactics to look for both registered and unregistered trademarks.

Start with some simple and free screening. The USPTO offers a free online search of its database of registered trademarks and pending applications.

Next, check with your local county clerk’s office to see if your proposed name is on their list of fictitious business names in the county.

Find out if a good URL is available. You can do a simple web search to see if anyone is using the URL, as well as use GoDaddy’s Domain Name Search tool.

Lastly, make sure your business name isn’t the same as an existing corporation, LLC, or other business entity in your state. You can contact your secretary of state’s office or have an online service handle this for you.

2. Register the name

After you’ve determined that your proposed business name is available, you’ll need to register it. This can be a confusing area for new business owners, as it’s often mistaken with incorporating or registering a trademark.

Registering a business name basically tells the state who you are and gives you a legal right to conduct business with that name.


There are two different ways to register your name:

  • If you’re planning on incorporating your business or forming an LLC (Limited Liability Company), this step will register the name.
  • If you’re not planning on incorporating or forming an LLC yet, you will need to file a DBA (Doing Business As) or Fictitious Business Name with the state.

Once your application is approved, you are legally able to conduct business under that name, and no other business will be able to register in the state using your same name. This gives you some level of brand/name protection within your state.

3. Register a trademark.

Step Two prevents anyone else from registering as an LLC or corporation with your same name in your state, but that’s where its protection ends. It won’t stop a business from operating as a sole proprietorship or partnership with the same name in your state. And it also doesn’t stop anyone from running a business, even incorporating, with your name in any of the 49 other states.

If you want to protect your name in all 50 states, then you’ll need to file for a trademark with the USPTO.

A trademark protects words, names, and symbols that distinguish goods and services. It gives the owner exclusive rights to the mark and no one else can use it to sell similar goods or services.


Online trademark registration costs between $275 and $325. In your application, you’ll need to provide information about the categories of goods and services that the mark will be used for, and when the mark was first used in commerce. Applying for a trademark is more expensive than just registering your name with the state, but it gives you exclusive rights to the mark in all 50 states.

The bottom line is your name is important to your business. Make sure you take the right legal steps to properly use and protect it.

Image by: Fire At Will [Photography] via Compfight cc