What Is a Fictitious Name?

A fictitious name in PA allows you to legally operate as a business under an assumed name instead of your own in the state of Pennsylvania. This is also known as a Doing Business As or DBA. It can also be used as a nickname for your business if you so desire. There are multiple advantages to operating a business under a DBA instead of its original name. Most importantly, doing so will create separation from the parent company and individual's liability.

When you file a DBA, you can conduct business under a different name than the one that's officially listed in the Certificate of Organization. For example, let's say you want to buy into the "Fruit Smoothie" franchise. If you already have a Limited Liability Corporation, like Dunkirk Enterprises LLC, you could register the name "Fruit Smoothie" as the DBA. You would then be operating as "Dunkirk Enterprises, LLC" doing business as or DBA "Fruit Smoothie". 

You can also use a fictitious name when branching out into a new market or new territory. Let's say you want to expand "Dunkirk Enterprises, LLC" to a new city like Pittsburgh. You can register the fictitious name as "Dunkirk Enterprises of Pittsburgh" and will be registered as "Dunkirk Enterprises DBA Dunkirk Enterprises of Pittsburgh". This works well for small operations, but if the new branch of the business continues to grow, you should consider forming a new company with its own incorporation papers.

DBAs are also used by sole proprietorships and general partnerships which have simple corporate and tax structures. However, a DBA doesn't provide protection from lawsuits, so if the business is sued, the owner or sole proprietor could be held personally liable for damages. These business structures are still used, but the LLC has become more popular due to their ease of creation and the legal protections they offer.

Key Points to Remember When Registering for a Fictitious Name

Although DBAs are flexible and can be registered in connection with an unlimited number of names, there are certain things a DBA cannot do. For example, a DBA cannot take title to real estate or hold a copyright.

In order to properly own a DBA in Pennsylvania, you must file a trademark at the state or federal level. In the event you are doing business in Pennsylvania only, you can file a state trademark and it will be sufficient for enforcement of naming rights. If you are a national-level business, on the other hand, you should file a federal trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

You can also give your fictitious name extra protection by registering it with the USPTO even if you're operating in the state of Pennsylvania only. This obviously adds another step and filing fees, but it is recommended if you want to protect your fictitious name from being copied. 

As previously mentioned, a fictitious name gives you no legal protection from a lawsuit. Your personal assets are at risk even though you are working under a DBA. Creating an LLC or other form of corporation is the best way to protect your personal assets from a lawsuit. 

How to File for Fictitious Name in Pennsylvania

In order to file a fictitious name for your business, first visit the Department of State's website and look for the Business and Charities tab. Once there, search the database for organized entities that may have a name similar to your chosen DBA name. You can still register a DBA even if a similar name is already listed in the database, but the name will be rejected if you decide to form an LLC later with the same name.

Next, complete the Application for Registration of Fictitious Name (form DSCB: 54-311) and mail it to the Pennsylvania Department of State, Corporation Bureau. Send in a personal check with your printed name and address on it or a money order for $70. Once registered, you must publish an advertisement in a local paper to notify the public that you are going to use the fictitious name or DBA. Once the add has been published, you are free to use the DBA.

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