Even the most unique names aren’t a guarantee of their availability. Finding a good business name is not an easy task if you work in an oversaturated industry or one that’s overly restrictive by default. This is all the more reason to ensure you choose a valid name before rushing ahead with your registration—having to file again after being rejected is not only costly but can be demoralizing. If you’d rather plan for every contingency ahead of the actual formation, the naming process is a good starting point. This article looks into the ways you could check if a business name is taken to help you avoid unnecessary expenses or, even worse, copyright infringement lawsuits.
Why Should You Check Business Name Availability?
Any entity required to go through the official formation process will inevitably encounter the issue of name validity. Prior to carrying out the initial registration filings, the law requires the organizers responsible for the entity formation to ensure that the chosen legal name meets the state’s regulations.
Although some of the finer details of this legal aspect of formation vary based on the state, the general naming rules remain the same across the board: any legal name you want to use for your business must be distinct and draw no close matches with other entities operating in the same jurisdiction.
This is why a cursory search might not be enough. Most states don’t allow new names that could be considered deceptively similar to ones already in use. The same goes for any attempt to use your company’s structural designation to alter the name without changing it, for instance simply adding the “LLC” signifier to a name currently taken by a corporation.
To prevent such practices, most states include name alteration rules to the main body of their naming regulations. These generally outline what type of changes are considered valid and which types won’t be taken into consideration.
At the end of the day, conducting a thorough search and following naming requirements will help you complete your formation without any setbacks. There won’t be any need to reapply or pay another service fee for the privilege. It will also likely help you save on promotional costs.
Steps to Checking a Company Name’s Availability
Before you can run any search, you will naturally need to prepare a list of potential names. Having only one name in mind may cause problems for your filing timeline if your only option proves to be invalid. So a good way to remain flexible during the formation process is to have a list of potential names at the ready. After that, you can start your search across state databases, as well as other sources.
One important thing to note is that this process is generally free, but a lot of formation companies tend to charge quite a lot of money to do it on your behalf. It’s up to you whether you want to spend money on something you could do free of charge. If you don’t know where to begin, here are the three key aspects of the search process to help you get started.
1) Use your state’s official search tool
The most natural place to start is with your state’s website, specifically the website of the agency that manages entity registrations in your jurisdiction. Most of the time, it’s the secretary of state, though sometimes, that role shifts to other government bodies such as the division of corporations.
The good news is, the search tools provided by these websites are free and open to use whenever you need them. What’s even handier is the integration of these tools into the formation itself, though not all states do that. But this approach helps navigate new entrepreneurs through the yet unfamiliar steps of registration. Putting the search as one of the first steps of formation also helps eliminate the risks of your application being rejected on the grounds of name invalidity.
If your state databases clear your legal name, you could potentially register it, but it’s better to do some additional searches beforehand. While you get ready to file your paperwork, you can also reserve your name for up to 120 days.
2) Check if the name has been trademarked
Unlike statewide name restrictions, trademarks are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and apply to the entire country. This means that if your name—or one similar to yours—is already someone’s trademark, you could get yourself into a lot of trouble relating to brand copyright infringement.
Even if your state doesn’t have any entities with identical or similar names, it’s best to run a search with the USPTO to make sure you won’t be violating anyone’s exclusive rights. If you somehow miss this and end up in hot water over someone’s trade name, fixing it would be incredibly expensive as it requires buying out the entire enterprise along with the brand copyright. On the upside, this also means you can trademark your name to prevent others from using it in other parts of the country.
3) Perform a general search
It’s not really a smart move to start any sort of online marketing without ensuring you don’t have competition with a more stable foundation. The main purpose of this step is to use popular search engines to see if:
- Another enterprise has a claim to your name with an established customer base to reinforce it;
- Any other business offers similar goods or services under the same or similar name;
- The name yields favorable search ranking.
It also won’t hurt to extend this search to social media. If you want to create a unique and memorable brand, consider conducting extensive research of your field’s presence on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other platforms.