Congratulations – you’ve thought long and hard, and have come up with the perfect name for your new business! But wait! Before you start purchasing business cards, designing logos, and signing contracts, you need to make sure your name is actually available for use.
What is business name availability?
Let’s assume you want to use the name “Squigl, Inc.” for your online logo design service, and that you have big plans for growth.
In the eyes of the state, your business name must be distinguishable from all other names currently registered in that same state. If it is distinguishable, and no other companies have reserved or registered under that name, the name is said to be available.
For example, if you wish to incorporate in Tennessee, do a business name availability search with the Tennessee Secretary of State before you incorporate. If the name is “unavailable,” and you still file incorporation papers, the state will reject your application, and you must select an “available” one.
How do I do a business name availability search?
Start by searching for “Squigl, Inc.” on your state’s website, typically the Corporations Division. As you search, consider:
1) Each state has different rules surrounding “availability,” and the state can reject an name for any reason.
2) State websites vary in user friendliness. Make sure you search by the correct entity type and use proper punctuation. In Texas, you have to pay $1 just to search online, and we recommend calling the TX Secretary of State directly!
3) State websites are usually updated 1-3 days behind corporate filing approvals. That means when a state approves a corporate filing, “evidence” might not appear on the state’s website until a few days later.
4) Corporate designators usually do not make a name distinguishable. For example, if “Squigl LLC” is already registered, you most likely cannot register Squigl, Inc.
While a cursory online search may reveal that your entity name is available, the only way to know for certain is to call the state directly, and have a filing specialist tell you. Those couple minutes on the phone might save your business days in filing time!
Nationwide name availability
Suppose you eventually want to become a national company, and will register in several states. It is possible that the name you’ve chosen in your home state will not be available in another. If you want to avoid this, you should repeat the business name availability search in every state where you plan to register your business.
Marketing and branding
This one is less about compliance, and more about common sense. Think about how your company and brand will be perceived nationally. Sure “Squigl” is a nice, brief name, but is it catchy? Easy to pronounce? Is the web domain available? Will the name always “fit” as you grow and add more products/services? Does your name convey to your customers exactly what you want them to think? Since you’re going into the business of drawing company logos, Squigl might be a great name! If you’re going into the day trading or funeral home business…not so much. Here’s much more on the topic from our friends at Grasshopper.
As you research a business name availability, you should also consider trademark law. Even though a name is available with the state’s Corporations Division, the name might be trademarked by another company in the industry, in another part of the country or world, or different business altogether. Registering or operating under the same or similar name can land your business in legal hot water.
One way to avoid trademark conflicts is to research exhaustively the USPTO website, state websites, the Internet, and existing businesses. Some service companies provide this research work. This research will turn up potential conflicts in name, industry, geography, and more. Many times, businesses use the guidance of an attorney to interpret these potential conflicts.
It’s very important to think about your company’s name in the big picture. At the top of your list should be business name availability. The perfect name is no good if it’s already taken, or if it will get you into a trademark lawsuit. Then, you should think about branding, marketing, and growth. A business name might not be any good if you change markets, products, or services, or if you expand dramatically beyond your current offering. Ultimately, a lot of thought and energy should go into name selection and research, but it’s worth the effort!