Check company name availability before naming your company. It's wise to check if your company name is available before establishing your new business.

A Guide on How to Check Company Name Availability

Before establishing and developing your business, it is a good idea to check that your company name is available. 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. Luckily, checking the availability of a company name is a simple process.

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 make 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.

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 are 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.

Performing a Business Name Search

Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive database you can use to perform a business name search. 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 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) so you can 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.

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:

  1. A trademark is a name that indicates the source of a service or product.
  2. If your trademark is memorable and unique, it is protected by state and federal law.
  3. Achieving distinction for your trademark through advertising and sales provides you with legal protections.
  4. Trademarks are considered to be in legal conflict when customers are likely to be confused by the use of both marks.
  5. When a conflict arises, the first person to use the trademark for commercial purposes legally owns the mark.
  6. 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 could 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.

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. In California, you can check on the Secretary of State's 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 today.