Do you need to reserve a business name or register one? And what’s the difference between the two? Are they any different? If you’re starting a business and you find yourself asking these questions, rest assured you’re not alone. In this guide, we’ll explain how to reserve a business name and how it’s different from registering one.
Business name registration is the process of creating (or registering) a business under a particular name. It’s different from reserving a business name. Reserving a name is like placing a hold on a library book; you get a temporary claim, but it’s not really yours. It’s also not required in most states, but many small business owners find the process helpful.
Registering is different because you get ownership of your name when you create your business entity with that name. However, that registration is limited to the state where you complete it. In the rest of this guide, we’ll explain how you can register or reserve your name.
There are two primary steps to reserve a business name: checking that the name’s available and filing the appropriate paperwork. We’ll dive into those steps in a moment, but let’s note a couple of facts. Most importantly, every state has slightly different requirements for this process. For example, Alabama actually requires a reservation. Florida doesn’t offer a fill-in form; instead, you send in a letter requesting the name. Be sure to check with your state’s guidelines before proceeding.
After you’ve thought of the perfect name, you’ll need to check that it’s available. That’s because every state has a legal requirement that you can’t reserve a business name that’s already been claimed. They usually call it a name that’s “distinguishable on the record.”
To check if your name’s available, you’ll need to find your state’s business name search tool. Then type in the name you’re hoping to use. Generally (but not always), if your search yields no results, then the name’s probably available.
We also recommend running a similar search with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to make sure the name isn’t protected by a federal trademark. Trademarks also exist at the state level, so check with the office in your state that handles trademarks.
If your name is available, then you can file paperwork to formally reserve it. In many states, you can file online to reserve a name. Or if you prefer a paper form, many states offer that option, too — often titled “Application for Name Reservation” or something similar.
Usually, there’s a small filing fee to reserve a business name. After your application and fee are processed, your name will be reserved. Many states reserve your name for 120 days, but the exact reservation period can vary from state to state. Some states allow you to renew a reservation, and others don’t. Ultimately, you’ll need to check with your state’s Secretary of State (or other agency) to learn what the requirements are in your location.
Above we’ve covered how to reserve your business name. Now let’s talk about how to register your business name. When you register your name, you’ll formally claim that name in your state.
The most common way of registering your business name is to simply file your business formation documents, such as the Articles of Organization for limited liability companies or Articles of Incorporation for corporations. Usually, you can file these forms online or by downloading the form and submitting it via mail, fax, or dropping it off in person to your state’s business office. Processing times vary by state, too, ranging from a few business days to almost instantly.
Registering your business under your chosen name adds the name to the state record, meaning every other in-state business has to make its name distinguishable from yours. That said, there are a few extra registrations you can pursue. Let’s walk through those.
A DBA — short for a “doing business as” name — is a type of business name that can be used by sole proprietorships, limited partnerships, and corporations alike (and other entity types). Often called a trade name, assumed name, or fictitious business name, a DBA allows a business to operate under a name that’s different from its legal name. It’s like a legal permission slip to use a nickname in business.
Every state has slightly different standards for DBAs. Some states make DBAs exclusive to their owners, and many others don’t. Other states require renewals for DBAs, and of course, filing fees vary, too. If you decide to get a DBA, be sure to check out your state’s laws for specific guidelines.
When we mention the word trademark, you likely envision the tedious process of registering a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Getting a federal trademark for your logo, including your name, is an option you can consider. This route is arguably the most secure protection you can get for your business name. Businesses nationwide — regardless of their state — can’t infringe on a name that’s protected by a federal trademark.
You can also register a trademark at the state level. This protection only applies within your state’s borders, but it’s more affordable and faster than getting a federal trademark.
In today’s digital, fast-paced world, a website is an essential tool for your business. That’s one reason it’s highly recommended to have a domain name that matches your business name. To do so, you’ll need to register your domain name. Our domain name service can help with this step.
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Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational 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.
In the U.S., business name reservation requests happen at the state level. There isn’t a form you can complete to reserve your name in all 50 states at once. Instead, you’ll need to reserve your name in the state where you plan to start your business. You can complete this process in multiple states if you need to.
There are a few different avenues you can pursue to protect your business name. If you’re not ready to start your business yet, you can reserve the name in each state where you want to use it. But to formally “own” your name, you’ll have to register your business structure under it.
That said, the most secure way to protect your name is to register it as part of a federal trademark. This is a pricey, detailed endeavor, but it’s the most broad-reaching protection you can get your name.
Ultimately, it depends on where you register your business. Every state has different fees for business name registrations, both through business formations and DBA registrations. For example, if you’re forming a limited liability partnership, you’ll pay your state’s fee for that business structure. But if you’re forming an unincorporated business entity like a sole proprietorship, you might consider registering a DBA instead.
If you’re hoping to register as a foreign corporation or foreign LLC in another state, you’ll still have to check that your name is available. To get authority to conduct business in that state, your name can’t infringe on names already in use there. If your name isn’t available, you can apply for a DBA instead (or get permission from the person who holds the business name registration rights, in some cases).
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