A check for LLC name availability is one of the first steps to starting a new business. This search will help you confirm whether any other trademarked content is currently using the name you want. Learn more about the importance of this process and the steps you can take to avoid accidentally infringing on protected content.

LLC Name Availability

Before you move forward with reserving a name and creating a business, you should learn some basics about trademark law.

Trademark Infringement

Trademarks exist to prevent one business from using an identical name that's already protected. But trademark infringement also applies to similar names that may create confusion.

Depending on the nature of the infringement (i.e., whether it was intentional) and the damage done, the infringing party may have to change the name of their business and pay compensation for harming the plaintiff's reputation and other damages.

A thorough LLC name search is the best tool to help you avoid infringement. To avoid creating confusion with an existing mark, you should search for identical and similar results.

Performing a Search

As you get ready to jump into performing a search through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and other sources, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep it simple: A simple search should be enough to tell you whether the name you want is available. Search on your own before working with a trademark attorney or another specialist to help you dive deeper into the database.
  • Start at the state or county level: The Secretary of State as well as county resources in your area should have a list of registered fictitious names. Include a search through these resources as part of your LLC due diligence. Many of these resources, including the USPTO, are available online.
  • Get creative: If you're set on a name but find a similar or identical result, don't get discouraged. Trademark laws allow similar names if they're unique and distinguishable. If the name you want is taken, get creative to come up with an allowed variation or start again from scratch.
  • Do your research for free: The USPTO and other trademark services are available for free. Search through these resources and see what you find before paying a specialist for help.
  • Search beyond the USPTO: The USPTO is a comprehensive resource of all trademarks registered with the federal government. You certainly need to search there, but you shouldn't stop after one or two tries. Check with The Thomas Register and other resources, such as Network Solutions. These resources keep lists of unregistered trademarks, making them fantastic supplements to the USPTO's official records.
  • Avoid willful infringement: Willful infringement occurs when a business deliberately infringes on another mark or when a business should have known about an existing mark. Checking the USPTO database can help you avoid this problem. Even if someone files a claim against you, you should be able to avoid paying damages for willful infringement by searching through the database.

How Do I Search for and Reserve a Business Name?

You can search for registered businesses and reserved names online at the USPTO. Remember to check out other databases as well, as this will help you check unregistered trademark names. This extra step is important because the U.S. follows trademark common law. This means that the exclusive rights to use a mark belong to the person who first uses the mark commercially, not to whoever registers it. Note that the state won't accept an application if it's identical or too similar to a registered mark.

If you find that the name you want is available, you can file an “intent-to-use” application with the USPTO. Once approved, this application reserves the mark for you to use once you open your business or officially register your intellectual property. Reservations are temporary, but they should last long enough for you to use the name commercially or submit an official application.

Note that if you're planning to open your business soon, you don't need to worry about a reservation. A reservation is intended for the early stage of business planning, and you'll receive protections as soon as you file your Articles of Incorporation or Articles of Organization. This provides protections for your trademarked content regardless of whether you ever officially register.

You can also reserve and register a name at the local level through the Secretary of State. It's quicker and cheaper to only register your LLC at the state level, but this also limits your trademark protections.

If you need help with checking LLC name availability, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.