You’ve finally done it: you’ve created the perfect name for your business. Now you need to know how to protect your business name so all that work doesn’t go to waste. After all, your business name is essential; it’s how you’ll build your brand with a loyal customer base. The last thing you want is for someone to steal your creative name (intentionally or by coincidence).
Look no further. In this guide, we’ll discuss your options for protecting your business name, both in your state and nationwide.
There are several different ways to protect your business name. Let’s walk through the options you have.
In every single state, businesses that register with the state — limited liability companies (LLCs), corporations, and so on — must create a name that’s “distinguishable on the record.” That’s a fancy way of saying it’s completely distinct from all other business entity names in the state. So as a result, when you register your business, you’ll actually gain exclusive rights to that name within the state.
To register your business, you’ll probably use the Articles of Incorporation (corporations) or the Articles of Organization (LLC). Each state has its own variation of this form, so be sure to check with your Secretary of State.
If you’ve thought of the perfect name but you’re not quite ready to create your business, you can reserve your name instead. Most states allow you to file an Application for Reservation of Name form (or something similar) for a fee. These forms essentially put a hold on the name you want, preventing others from registering it before you do.
Every state is a little bit different. In many states, your reservation lasts for 120 days. Other states have different terms. In Alabama, a reservation is required prior to registering a business. Be sure to check how the reservation process works in your area.
A DBA name, or “doing business as” name, can be another helpful tool for protecting your name. A DBA can be used by any business entity type, including partnerships and sole proprietorships. For these entities, a DBA — sometimes called an assumed name, fictitious business name, or trade name — lets them operate under a name that’s different from the owner’s legal name, making them sound more like an official business. Registered businesses can use DBAs to create new product lines, nicknames, and more.
Every state has different approaches to DBAs. In some, registration is required, and in others it’s optional. Some states require DBAs to be completely unique, and others allow multiple businesses to use the same DBA. But no matter what your state’s position is, one thing is true: registering a DBA can either prevent or discourage other entrepreneurs from using the name you’ve picked.
When we say “trademark registration,” most people immediately think of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s registration program. And we will cover that in just a minute. But did you know that you can actually register your name as a trademark in your state?State trademark registration is a great option if you want a little extra protection for your business name without the lengthy, expensive process of national registration.
Registering a federal trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is arguably the most secure way to protect your business name. If you register your trademark with the USPTO, your mark will be protected nationwide. Typically, when a business protects its name with a trademark, it’s tied to a visual mark or logo. For example, all major shipping carriers like UPS or FedEx have visually recognizable logos that include their business names.
Technically speaking under trademark law, you own a mark the first time you use it in commerce. If two businesses try to claim the same trademark, the USPTO will honor the trademark rights of whoever used it first. The other business will have to stand down.
When you register a trademark, you acquire two notable benefits. First, you have federal protection for your name nationwide, searchable on a national database. Second — and arguably more importantly — you have a means of taking legal action against anyone who infringes on your name.
Registering a trademark or service mark can be a pretty lengthy, expensive process. First, you’ll need to run a trademark search to be sure you aren’t infringing on a registered mark.
Next, when you start the application, you’ll need to provide evidence that you’ve used the mark in commerce. You should also be able to describe the goods or services associated with your mark, describe the mark itself, have a visual representation of it, and more. USPTO does provide an electronic application to help facilitate the trademark process.
Even after you submit your application, you can expect to wait 4 to 6 months for your preliminary approval. Additional steps follow after that. On average, the entire trademark registration process takes between 12 and 18 months. While this is a long wait, it can be worth it if you want the ultimate protection for your business name.
Another step you can take is establishing an online presence under your company name. Ideally, you’ll be able to use a domain name that matches or contains your business name. But to do that, you’ll need to register your business domain. Our domain name service can help.
Think about it this way. You’d hate to pick a name, start conducting a business, and then discover another business owner has the URL you want for your website. That’s why it’s best to register your domain name as soon as possible.
If you want to successfully market your business, then establishing a social media presence is essential. Whether you’ll use TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform, you’ll want to establish these accounts right away under a handle that matches your business name as closely as possible.
Even if you don’t plan to use a platform right away, you still might consider creating an account there so you can prevent others from claiming the handle you want. That way, you have access to the social media handle matching your name when you’re ready to use that platform.
Picking and protecting your business name can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here at ZenBusiness, we can help with all the “red tape” aspects of naming your business. Whether you need help searching your business name availability, reserving your name for future use, or even starting your first LLC or corporation, we can help. Let us handle the paperwork so you can focus on what matters: your business.
Disclaimer: The content on this page is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.
Technically, you can’t copyright a business name. The term “copyright protection” is used for the registered protection provided to what the USPTO calls “artistically, literary, or intellectually created works” like films, memoirs, books, and more. Business names fall under the trademark protection category. Both copyrights and trademarks offer the same level of protection, though, so you aren’t missing out because you can’t copyright your business name.
For assistance, we highly recommend hiring a trademark attorney. Trademark law can be extremely complicated.
To start, you should register your business name in whatever way your state and business type allows. That will protect your business name in your area. You should also claim the domain name and social media handles that you want, too, establishing your online claim to the name.
If you want the best name protection available, you should look into registering your name as part of a trademark.
There isn’t really a way to protect your business name for free, with the exception of claiming social media handles with your name. With more “official” methods, there is always a filing fee. Your most low-cost name protection option comes with registering your business under your chosen name. If you’re already planning on creating an LLC or corporation, then this cost will be part of your start-up expenses anyway.
Whether you’re naming an LLC or another business, it can feel overwhelming to choose the perfect name for it. Our guide to naming a business is a great place to start.
You can start adding your company name to printed materials like business cards and brochures as soon as you’re sure you aren’t infringing on someone else’s business name protections or trademark rights. Generally speaking, if you plan to register your business, you should complete that step before printing marketing materials (just in case there are any issues).
Start a Business in Your State
Popular States for Starting a Small Business
Ready to Start Your Business?