Deciding on your business name is one of the first and most consequential decisions you will make when starting a new business. In addition to all the business/marketing reasons that a name is important, there are major legal implications as well. Making sure that your business name is available for use in the following:
1. For the area in which you operate your business.
2. For the products or services you provide.
3. For securing your rights to that name are critical steps to protect the future of your business.
Imagine that you secure everything for your business: your website, your social media handles, and your marketing & branding materials. Then you start selling your products or services under a business name. These steps are both costly and time-consuming.
Now imagine that you’re having some success and getting good name recognition. Then imagine that another business in your state properly registered that name before you. Or, that a business providing similar products or services has a trademark and serves you with a cease-and-desist letter. Or, if you failed to properly secure your name for your exclusive use and you find out someone else has started using it. Overnight you could find yourself having to start from scratch.
Once you have a name in mind, the next step is to confirm that it’s available for use.
First, you should check with your state’s database of registered businesses to see if its already taken. As an attorney licensed in New York and New Jersey I am going to reference the links for both states, however a simple google search will help you find the database for your state.
In New Jersey, the database can be found at NJ Business Name Search. For New York, the database can be found at NY Business Name Search. These databases are usually limited to corporate entities that have been formed, such as limited liability companies or corporations, but may also include the names of partnerships and sole proprietorships that chose to register with the state.
Second, you should also search trade names that have been registered with your town and county for sole proprietorships and partnerships that are otherwise not obligated to register with the state. Third, you should search the US Patent and Trademark Office database at USPTO Search. Only once you’ve verified that there are no conflicts with your chosen business name should you then undertake the business/marketing related searches, such as website and social media handle availability.
When you have an available name chosen, the next step is to determine what form of business entity you should form. A comprehensive article discussing the differences between forms of businesses can be found at The ABCs of INCs. If you choose to form an LLC or some other corporate form, then you will have to register through the state and your name will have protection within the state you registered. If you choose to operate as a sole proprietorship or partnership, then you should still voluntarily register your name through the state as well as at the local county and/or town level. Finally, if you are selling goods or services in several states and you have a unique enough business name, you should consider filing for a trademark through the USPTO to protect your name nationwide from use by others providing similar goods or services.
Step 1: Do your research!
Step 2: Register your name with the state in which you will operate.
Step 3: Set up your business entity
Information contained in this post is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem, and it should not be substituted for legal advice, which relies on a specific factual analysis. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult the with Michael H. Ansell, Esq., or other competent legal counsel.