Securing a business name is an extremely important step to make for your company. Your name will identify your brand and will signify your reputation with current and future customers.

Protecting Your Name in Your Home State

There are situations where competitors may attempt to mimic the name of a business. If this happens to your company it may cause your customers to become confused. In extreme cases, your reputation could suffer. There are steps that you can take to help protect the name of your business. One of the best ways to protect the name of your business is to create a business entity such as a limited liability corporation (LLC) or a corporation.

Remember, after you've created a business entity, the name of your business cannot be protected outside the state in which you're incorporated. The issues surrounding the choice of a name fall into two categories:

  1. Optional registrations that provide a more significant name protection
  2. Mandatory requirements for the registration of a business name

The business filing agency in your home state will never allow two businesses to have the same name. Some states won't even allow two business names to be deceptively similar. The main advantage to claiming a business name in your home state is to prevent any other businesses from using it.

Required Registrations: Filing a DBA or Registering a Business Name

Can a business name be protected without forming an LLC or corporation? Partnerships and sole proprietorships will often utilize a business name that's significantly different than the owner's name. For example, a person named Greg Thomas may have a business that's named Connie's Cupcakes.

LLCs and corporations will sometimes have an official name and a totally different name for their business. For example, Connie's Cupcakes LLC might have a store called The Cupcake Factory.

An unofficial business name is referred to as either a fictitious business name, a trade name, or a doing business as (DBA). Depending on the state, you may need to register your DBA name with your state or county. Registering the DBA name informs the public of who actually owns the business. Also, it discourages your competitors from selecting a similar name.

How to Secure a Business Name

Registering your company with your home state's Secretary of State (SOS) is part of the incorporating process. During this process, you'll find out if any other businesses have a confusingly similar name. 

Upon filing the corporate papers, you'll have the obligation and right to use your corporate name throughout your home state. However, you may not have full exclusivity over your business name because there may be another company that is unincorporated. This unincorporated business may be merely using your business name as a service mark or trade name.

In other words, your corporate name has provided you with total exclusivity. More specifically, the corporate designation such as Inc. or Incorporated, Corp. or Corporation, Ltd. or Limited is protected.

Nearly all states will allow you to reserve a name if you're not entirely ready to formally establish a business entity yet. The length of time a reservation may be held will vary by state. Selecting a business name and registering it, or securing it, are two totally different things. Securing a name gives you the right to legally use the name.

Your home state's SOS will be able to supply you with the paperwork and documents that will need to be submitted in order to register and secure your business name. The SOS documents will ask you to submit up to three business names in case the first two names were previously taken.

You should also contact your county's business license office to notify them of the name of your business. This paperwork is sometimes referred to as a DBA application. Filing these forms with the county or local city will help to make them aware of the legal name of your business. Remember, copyrights are only protected by the original work of authorship.

Business names are not eligible for copyright protection. However, you do have the ability to protect the name of your business by registering it with a domain name on the internet. Domain names can be purchased online fairly easily from numerous domain providers. Additionally, make sure to proactively register any social media accounts to prevent someone else from using business name. It pays to be proactive when it comes to safeguarding your business name.

If you do find out that another business is utilizing the name of your business, it's highly recommended to contact a lawyer to remedy the situation.

If you need securing a business name, you can post your job 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.