Naming Your Business and Registering Your Name

If you think naming your business sounds simple and straightforward, think again. The advent of the Internet has simplified this process in some ways yet made it infinitely more complicated in others. With the help of a good business attorney, you can set yourself up with a business name that will excel in both form and function. Here are some basic steps you can take to choosing a name for your business and then protecting it.

Brainstorm

Given how extremely difficult and costly it is to change a business name down the road, you only want to go through this process once. There are websites with an assortment of tools that will help you brainstorm names for your business. Here’s an example of a site that lists 19 steps to coming up with a name.

Search Trademarks

You’ll want to make sure no one is using that name in your line of business. You may be able to use the name in a completely different sector. For example, you could have two companies named Lynx where one is a transit company and the other is a genetic research company. But be aware that it may create confusion for both you and them, or even result in costly litigation, so you’ll want to proceed with caution and carefully weigh the plusses and minuses.

Search for trademarks on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website and consult an attorney to find out if your business name could encroach on another business’ rights. You don’t want to invest thousands in branding your business, just to have your business name sued down the road for trademark infringement. Imagine being the owners of Victor’s Secrets, facing a mountain of legal fees and the expense of renaming their business.

Search Domains

Even if you do not have immediate plans of taking your business presence online, you will want to take securing your brand online into consideration. One of the first things you’ll want to do is search for domains (website addresses) that would complement your business name. The ideal scenario is you find a .com available domain with your company name — provided your business name isn’t too long.

If the domain is too long or could be easily misspelled, you’ll want to come up with a shortened version or a simpler name. Another option is to buy domains with common misspellings and redirect the misspelled domains to the right domain. You can see an example of this by putting wal-mart.com in a browser. It will redirect to walmart.com.

You may also want to search common social networking sites — like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn — to see if your name is in use. Again, although you may have no intention of using these sites now, business is moving in the direction of weaving itself in people’s social networks. You don’t want to lock yourself out of this growing medium.

The Business.gov site provides great tips for choosing a business name that’s unique, Web-ready, and legally yours.

Register Your Business Name

Once you’ve completed the process of choosing your name and making sure that it’s available for your use, you’ll want to protect it in every way you can. If you’re filing as sole proprietor or partnership, file with the Secretary of State. (Read our article about the different legal forms your business can take.)

If you’re filing as an LLC or corporation, no need to file with the Secretary of State. Registration of your business name is baked into the setup process. However, if you are going to actually conduct business under a name other than your corporation or LLC name, you may have to file additional Assumed Name paperwork.

Assumed Name

One thing you may want to do is operate your business under an assumed name. Also referred to as a fictitious business name or D/B/A (short for “doing business as”), filing your business under an assumed name allows you to legally do business as a particular name without having to create an entirely new business entity. You can accept payments, advertise, and otherwise present yourself under that name. In fact, if you present your business under a name other than your proper legal name without proper notification, it may be considered fraud. Fortunately, filing for an assumed name is so easy and inexpensive, there’s really not much excuse for not filing one. Consult a good business attorney to see if this would be advantageous for your business.

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