How to Check if a Business Name is Taken
Check your Company Name Availability before naming your company. It's wise to check if your company name is available before establishing your new business.10 min read
Starting a new business? Before you start your first big marketing campaign, you will need to check that your business name isn’t being used by someone else. Otherwise, you may face trademark infringements. Make sure to read our guide on how to check if a business name is taken.
Why Should I Check If My Business Name Is Taken?
When you first decide on a business name, you might be first thinking, is my business name taken? You would be right to want to first verify this information. Checking that your business name is not taken is not only important for forming a unique brand but failing to do so may have legal implications. When first forming a business entity, such as a limited liability company or a corporation, you must first file formation documents with your state.
You cannot choose a business name that is identical or too similar because you may risk violating trademark law or having your formation request denied.
How to Check if a Business Name is Available?
Before establishing and developing your business, you should know how to check for a business name and its availability. Being forced to change your company name after you've already established a customer base can cause confusion. Plus you could face a lawsuit if your name is too similar to a business in the same industry. So when it comes to how to check if a business name is taken, there are a few things to consider.
Every state has a secretary of state or other state agency that is in charge of business entity filings. The majority of states have an online entity name checker available on their state business filing agency's website. The online tool may be used to search business names and determine whether the name you have selected is being used by another company already.
To check if a business name has been registered federally, simply verify the name with the federal trademark database of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
If you come across a company with a similar name, it's a good idea to research your state's unique business naming laws to see if the resemblance will prevent you from using the name you want.
Understanding Trademark Law
To ensure you are protected from a potentially costly trademark lawsuit, it's important to understand a few basic facts about trademark law. If you choose a name for your business that is confusingly similar to the name of one of your competitors, you have committed trademark infringement. The business whose name you have infringed upon may be able to pursue damages for the infringement and can also force you to change the name of your business.
The only way to make sure that you won't commit trademark infringement is to do your research and check if a business name is available by making sure the name you have chosen for your business hasn't been previously registered by another company. It's very common for businesses to trademark their name, which means they have legal ownership of their business name.
Performing a trademark availability search is much easier with help from an experienced intellectual property attorney. The right attorney can help you perform your search and will let you know if using your desired business name is likely to result in a trademark infringement lawsuit.
You may have also wondered about patenting a name yourself. Well, while you can patent an idea, you can’t patent a name, but you can trademark it.
Ways to Check Business Name Availability
Checking if your business name is available is easy with the many tools at your disposal. We will review:
- How you can check trademark availability
- DBA checking
- Performing a business name search
- Federal and state trademark searches
- Check URL availability
- Check social media
- Check name availability in the business formation site
Check Trademark Availability
A trademark is a distinctive sign - such as words, a logo or a combination of both - that can be used to distinguish your products or services from those of your competitors. Before you pick a name for your company, you will want to do a trademark search to make sure there is not a trademark for a similar name in a similar industry.
You’d be looking for trademarked names similar to the one you are thinking about using and in an industry that you plan to operate in. Industries are indicated by an industry code (1-45). If there is a trademark for a similar name in the same industry as you would operate in (or you do something similar), then you may want to pick another name. Not sure what industry you would operate in? Do a trademark search for your major competitors and see which industries they have registered their trademarks. Markify is a good trademark search service that offers free trademark monitoring.
Another useful tool for checking trademark availability is offered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. You can search their trademark database using their Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to check if a trademark has been registered or similar to your trademark, used on products, or is live.
Some business entities may use a trading name or a “DBA”. Sometimes, companies will use a DBA instead of their registered name. Thus, just because there is an absence of a business entity with the same name in your state does not necessarily mean that you are in the clear.
The registration of a business name with the city or county is a requirement in many localities for companies operating under fictitious names. You may find out if a competing business in your neighborhood is using the name you want to use by looking up these DBA registrations.
It's possible that a company that has filed for DBA trademark rights in the business name and has developed significant local brand awareness, could make it more challenging to market your company.
Performing a Business Name Search
Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive database you can use to check company name availability. The main reason for this is that you earn rights to a trademark simply by using the mark, which means not all trademarks have been registered. You must use a variety of search methods in concert to make sure you are finding both registered and unregistered trademarks.
Formal trademark or business name searches can be expensive. So before you pay for a formal search, you should perform something known as a quick screening search. Essentially, with a quick screening search, you will type in your desired trademark or business name into an online search engine to see what you can find. With this type of search, you will be able to get a basic idea of whether someone else is already using your desired business name on the internet.
Another effective company name search method is a fictitious name database search. Visit your county clerk's office and see whether the name you have chosen for your company has already been registered in your jurisdiction. Depending on the state in which you live, there may be a fictitious business name database that lists all registered business names in your state.
The benefit of a fictitious name database search is that you will find all business names and trademarks currently in use in your state, including names that have not been formally registered. Should you find a name that is very similar to the one you've selected for your company, you will need to pick another, more distinct business name.
The business entity type that you have selected for your business will impact how you search for name availability. For example, if you've formed your business as a limited partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation, you need to be certain your name is distinguishable from the names of similar entities. Your state filing office will typically have a name database for each of these entities, and they can tell you how to correctly perform a search.
Federal and State Trademark Searches
Regardless of the size of your business, you should be sure to search the federal trademark database of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to determine if your name has already been registered at the federal level. Performing this type of search will protect you from willful infringement liability, which means you have violated someone else's trademark rights. You can be sued for willful infringement even if you have not searched the federal database.
Willful infringement is one of the costliest forms of trademark infringement, often resulting in stiff penalties. Searching the USPTO trademark database will help you avoid committing this form of infringement and having to deal with the consequences.
After searching the federal trademark database, you should search the trademark database in your state. Small businesses commonly do not register their trademarks federally, so performing only a federal search may cause you to miss finding a state-level trademark. This means you may unknowingly commit infringement.
Check URL Availability
Many businesses these days, especially in the tech industry, require a website. The URL for that website can be an important branding and marketing asset, especially if your primary sales channel is via the web. Before selecting a name, you should make sure the URL you plan to use is available. Try typing in your business name and “.com” first, or use a domain search website like: www.whois.net.
Check Social Media
Searching the Internet is one of the quickest approaches to see if your business name has already been taken by someone else. You may also see if your business name is being used on social media with the availability of free and paid name-checking social media sites.
Alternatively, you can also perform your own search by typing in your business name and similar variations into popular social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, and Pinterest. You don’t need to be using these sites—you just need to make sure that someone isn’t using your new potential business name on these sites.
Check Name Availability in the Business Formation State
Before you can form your company, you'll need to be sure that no other company is using the name you have selected. If you are forming a Delaware entity, you can check the availability of a name at the Delaware State Government website.
Need help checking the availability of a company name? Post a Job on UpCounsel and Connect with Quality Business Attorneys who can help you properly check the availability of a company name online so you don't waste a lot of time and investment.
Tips for Choosing a Domain Name
Theoretically, choosing a domain name for your business should be very simple. Unfortunately, just because a given domain name fits your business from a marketing standpoint, it doesn't mean you will be legally allowed to use the domain name you have chosen.
For instance, if the name you have chosen is similar to other commercial domain names, you can very easily lose your domain name and have to start from scratch. Losing a domain name can be disastrous, particularly if you've already invested money into marketing for your website.
Legal conflicts arising from domain names fall under the umbrella of trademark law. If you want to avoid a conflict when choosing and registering your domain name, there are a few basic facts that you need to understand:
- A trademark is a name that indicates the source of a service or product.
- If your trademark is memorable and unique, it is protected by state and federal law.
- Achieving distinction for your trademark through advertising and sales provides you with legal protections.
- Trademarks are considered to be in legal conflict when customers are likely to be confused by the use of both marks.
- When a conflict arises, the first person to use the trademark for commercial purposes legally owns the mark.
- If the courts determine that there is a legal conflict, the last person to use the mark will be forced to stop using it and may have to pay damages to the owner of the trademark.
When you're choosing your domain name, you should keep in mind these principles of trademark law. Make sure to do your research so that you can be sure you are choosing a domain name that will not be confused with the domain name of another business. Choosing a completely original domain name will preserve your rights to your website and will help you avoid a costly trademark infringement lawsuit.
In conclusion, checking to see if a business name is taken is an important part of the formation of your new entity. You will want to go through our how-to guide to ensure that you are choosing a name that is unique and doesn’t violate any trademark infringements. This way, you can position yourself to market.
What is a business name registration?
When forming a new business entity, you must register your new business name with the state that you’re operating in.
Can I register a business name online?
Some states may allow you to register your business name online while others require that you file paper documents in person or by mail. You will need to verify your state-specific process.
Can I rename my business after?
To change your business name after one has been established, simply file an “Articles of Amendment” with your state. The new name must be approved prior to you using it.
Can two businesses have the same name?
You may not use the same business name as a company if the business name has been trademarked.
Where can I check if a business name is taken?
To check if a business name is taken, simply follow UpCounsel’s how-to guide.
What do you do if someone copies your business name?
If another individual or entity attempts to copy your business name, your first inclination may be to take legal action. However, consider first reaching out to the individual and politely informing them that this is your intellectual property, as they may be unaware and change the name. If this is not effective, you can file for a trademark on your business name, which will give you the authority to take legal action.
How do I know if a business name is trademarked?
How to check if a business name is taken, you ask? Simply use the federal trademark database of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or use your state-specific search data.
Can I trademark my business name if someone else is using it?
You cannot trademark your business name if someone else has trademarked it first.
Should my business and LLC have the same name?
In short, it depends. Your business and LLC name do not have to be the same. Your business name is what you use to market your company, whereas your LLC’s name is used for legal and financial purposes.
Does your logo have to match your business name?
No, your logo does not have to match your business name. Your logo is a part of your brand and how you market your business to potential clients. They can match, but there is technically no obligation for them to.
Can I sell my business name?
In short, yes. You are able to sell or transfer your business name to another business.