Each state regulates DBA names differently, and Alabama’s laws are distinct from those in many other states. Accordingly, you’ll need to understand your legal obligations related to DBA names and the potential benefits.
This guide will provide an overview of DBA names in Alabama. We’ll detail how DBA names are regulated, the formal process for registering one, and the steps you’ll need to take to renew your name over time.
Additionally, we’ll explain how ZenBusiness’s DBA name registration and compliance services can help your business obtain and maintain the perfect name. For everything that you need to know about DBA names in Alabama, dive into the information below.
What is an Alabama “doing business as” (DBA) name?
A DBA name enables a business entity to operate without using its full legal title. This option can provide convenience and branding benefits, especially for certain businesses. The state government maintains records of DBA names to track the activities of businesses under the names they’re using.
In various states, DBA names are sometimes referred to as “fictitious business names,” “fictitious names,” or “assumed names.” In Alabama, the technical term for a DBA name is a “trade name.”
Generally, there are two major categories of businesses that seek DBA names:
- Sole proprietorships and partnerships often employ DBA names to establish a business identity separate from the owners’ names. In the absence of a DBA name, these businesses are referred to by the owners’ names. A DBA name permits them to operate under a different title of the owner’s choosing, which may help project professionalism.
- Corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) may use DBA names to condense their formal names for marketing purposes. For example, “Birmingham Bicycle Rentals, LLC” might choose to do business as “Birmingham Bikes.” Additionally, businesses use DBA names to differentiate product lines or services. Say a business called “Rise Bakery” decides to begin producing a new line of doggie treats. “Ruff by Rise” could be a great DBA name for their new venture.
In discussing DBA names (or trade names), it’s also important to note what they are not. DBA names do not establish a new business entity or alter the tax status of an existing business. Nor do they “copyright” or “trademark” a business name. Instead, they create a new way to identify a business entity.
Alabama has a unique set of regulations concerning trade names. Except for foreign entities hoping to operate under a different name, Alabama businesses can freely use names other than their formal ones.
Registering a trade name is an optional process, and businesses are expected to begin using their trade names before applying for registration. In fact, if you choose to register a trade name, you’ll be asked to provide proof of how you’re using it already.
Given these relaxed regulations, why would you choose to register your trade name formally? For one thing, certain business activities might require you to register your trade name.
For example, if you wish to open a bank account under your trade name, your banking institution will likely ask for proof of your trade name registration. Additionally, if you wish to do business across state lines, a registered trade name may come in handy in stricter states.
Plus, registering your trade name may deter others from using it. Under Alabama case law, “once you adopt and use a mark and are documented as the first to use such mark, you are entitled to exclusive rights to that mark.” Therefore, in theory, registering your trade name would document your exclusive rights to it.
If registering a trading name sounds like it might be right for your Alabama business, ZenBusiness can take care of the entire process. From initial registration to ongoing compliance, our experts can register your trade name and keep it in good standing.
How do I choose an Alabama DBA name?
As noted, businesses elect to use trade names for several reasons. The best name for your purposes will reflect the nature and goals of your business. Additionally, you’ll need to consider a range of marketing considerations, taking your audience’s taste into account.
Another key consideration is your domain name, the address you’ll use for your business’s website. The right trade name could align the title of your business with an available domain, helping establish a unified digital presence. If you’re interested in obtaining the right web address to complement your trade name, Zenbusiness’s domain name service can handle the technical details.
But the most important aspect of choosing a trade name is ensuring that no other business is using it currently. You don’t want to confuse potential customers or struggle to build your brand in competition with another company.
Additionally, if you do wish to register a trade name, you’ll need to confirm no other business has already done so. As part of your registration application, you’ll need to affirm that “I believe no other person has the right to use the Trademark, Service Mark or Trade Name in Alabama in identical form thereof or in such near resemblance to deceive or cause to be mistaken pursuant to § 8-12-8(a)(4), Code of Alabama 1975.”
How can you determine if a trade name is available in Alabama? There are two state databases to consult:
- The Alabama Business Entity Records system allows you to search for businesses with official names that might be close to your preferred trade name.
- The Trademark Search database allows you to search for trade names registered in Alabama.
To choose a trading name with total confidence, hire our team to do the homework. Our DBA registration service includes due diligence regarding existing trade names, so you won’t have to worry about running afoul of state regulations.
How do I register an Alabama DBA name?
If you decide to register a trade name for your business in Alabama, you’ll need to complete a corresponding process with the Alabama Secretary of State.
Within that agency, the Trademarks Division oversees the trade name registration process. In fact, there is a single form for registering a trademark, service mark, or trade name in Alabama. That document is called the Application to Register or Renew Trademark, Service Mark, or Trade Name. For this article, you can focus on the trade name aspect exclusively.
As you might expect, that form requires details about the name of the registering company and information about the trade name’s purpose and use. But Alabama’s process for registering a trade name also differs in some respects from that of other states. In particular, because Alabama companies can start using trade names before registering them, you’ll need to provide evidence that your business is using the trade name currently.
In the state’s trade name regulations, these items of proof are called “specimens.” Examples might include a company letterhead featuring your trade name, a business card, or any marketing material. To register your trade name, you’ll need to provide three separate specimens.
Depending on your preference, you can submit your application and supporting materials by mail or online. Here’s a step-by-step guide for each of these methods:
Complete the Application to Register or Renew Trademark, Service Mark, or Trade Name. Most of the required fields are self-explanatory, but be sure to note which fields are necessary for initial registration instead of a renewal. You can use the attached “Schedule of Classification of Businesses” document to determine the appropriate industry code for your business for Question 7. 2. Attach originals or legible copies of the three specimens. Ensure that each specimen precisely matches the trade name you hope to register. Attach the $30 filing fee for the trade name application. You can pay by check or credit card. If you choose to pay by credit card, complete and attach this credit card payment slip. Compile your application, specimens, and payment in a single envelope and mail it to the following address:
Office of the Secretary of State
South Union St., Suite 224
Montgomery, AL 36130
- Open the Secretary of State’s digital application form.
- Complete the contact information page and proceed to the form. Provide information in all of the required fields.
- Attach photos or scanned copies of the three specimens you wish to include with your application.
- Submit your application and pay the filing and processing fee (a total of $31.20).
How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in Alabama?
Once you register your trade name in Alabama, you’ll need to renew your registration every five years. Thankfully, the process for renewing a trade name involves the same form you submitted to register your trade name, the trade name registration process Application to Register or Renew Trademark, Service Mark, or Trade Name.
In fact, the renewal process is even easier than the initial registration because you’ll only be required to provide a single “specimen” to demonstrate your use of the trade name. The renewal application can be submitted online or by mail, as with the initial registration.
There’s another aspect of trade name compliance: What happens if you need to change ownership of a trade name? This might occur if you sell your business or wish to obtain a trade name from another company.
Fortunately, you can accomplish this transfer using the Application to Assign Trademark, Service Mark, or Trade Name. This form is similar to the registration and renewal application but assigns the trade name to a different entity. One major difference is that this form must be notarized. If you’re merging with another business, you’ll need to attach a copy of your Alabama Certificate of Merger.
If you’d rather focus your energies elsewhere, let our team keep track of your trade name compliance. For a low annual fee, ZenBusiness will ensure that your trade name registrations are always accurate and up to date.
Alabama DBA FAQs
- How much does it cost to register an Alabama DBA name?
As discussed, to apply for a DBA name or “trade name” in Alabama, you’ll need to submit an Application to Register or Renew Trademark, Service Mark, or Trade Name. The filing cost for this form is $30 (or $31.20 if filed online, due to an additional processing fee).
However, you should also consider other related costs you may incur while compiling your application. For example, producing specimens could entail additional expenses, such as printing marketing materials that use the trade name.
- What is the processing time to register an Alabama DBA?
Typically, the Alabama Secretary of State can process trade name applications within one to two business days of receiving the application, provided that the materials provided are in order. If you submit your application online, you’ll reduce the time until the office receives your application.
To inquire about current processing times, you can contact the Lands and Trademarks Office at (334) 242-5325.
- Do I need a DBA name for my Alabama business?
In all likelihood, you do not technically need a DBA name for your Alabama business. Even if you elect to do business under a different title than your business’s formal legal name, registering a trade name in Alabama is almost always optional.
Foreign business entities are the one exception to this rule: If businesses of this type wish to operate in Alabama under a different name, they are legally required to register the trade name they are using.
While you may not be required to register your business’s trade name, there are several potential benefits to doing so, as discussed. To learn more about how obtaining a trade name could help your business, reach out to our team today.
- If I register a DBA name in Alabama, can another business use the same name?
Unfortunately, registering a trade name in Alabama won’t necessarily prevent other businesses from using it. While applicants are not supposed to intentionally or unwittingly duplicate another business’s trade name, there’s no clear system of prevention or enforcement.
Alabama’s trade name registration process does not guarantee exclusive use of your chosen name. Moreover, the Secretary of State will not adjudicate disputes among businesses using the same trade name. If a trade name dispute occurs, the aggrieved party will need to seek legal recourse.
That doesn’t mean you are not without legal protection. The trade name application notes the following: “Rights of ownership are achieved through the common laws of adoption and usage in Alabama. Current case law states that once you adopt and use a mark and are documented as the first to use such a mark, you are entitled to exclusive rights to that mark (Ala. Code §8-12-1).” If conflicts arise regarding the use of your trade name, you can assert your rights in court on this basis.
If you’re hoping to protect your trade name from infringement, you should also consider applying for a federal trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
- Can a business in Alabama have multiple DBA names?
Businesses can utilize multiple trades names in Alabama. This approach is common among businesses with multiple lines of products or services, allowing companies more flexibility in branding.
For example, imagine a dance studio formally named “Montgomery Dance Company, LLC.” The business might use “Montgomery Modern” as a trade name when marketing dance classes to adults. However, in the summer, the studio could also operate a dance program for school-aged children called “Montgomery Moves.”
If the studio elected to register both of these trade names, the business’s owners would need to submit a separate application for each one.
- Is a DBA name the same thing as a fictitious business name in Alabama?
As mentioned, the technical term for a DBA name in Alabama is “trade name.” We’ve used those two terms interchangeably throughout this article.
“Fictitious business name” is another common synonym for trade or DBA names. In some states, the preferred term is “assumed name.” While these terms mean the same thing, each state uses one for administrative purposes.
- Do I need a DBA name in Alabama if I use my own name for a sole proprietorship?
If your business is a sole proprietorship, you don’t need a DBA name in Alabama. Most people with sole proprietorships use their own names when doing business; from a legal and taxation standpoint, there’s no distinction between the sole proprietor and the business.
As a sole proprietor, you can do business under a different trade name and even register that trade name. Doing so would be entirely optional. However, it is worth noting that you can’t register your personal name (or any personal name) as a trade name in Alabama.
- Will using a DBA name affect how my business is taxed in Alabama?
No, your use or registration of a trade name will not affect how you are taxed in Alabama (or at the federal level, for that matter). A trade name is used to identify your business; it does not alter the business entity’s structure or tax status in any way.