Try to think of between five and ten names for your business before beginning your search. After you have compiled your list, conduct a business name search to ensure that your chosen business name is not already in use.
Though this may sound simple, there is no single central database of registered business names. Instead, you will have to conduct your business name search in phases. If you are not comfortable performing the search yourself, hire a business law attorney who will know how to search for business names for you.
- Enter your business name in popular search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. If your search reveals a number of businesses with identical or similar names, cross the name off your list. While you may be able to pick the name if only a few other businesses use it — provided you do business in different states and/or different industries — it is better to avoid brand confusion by selecting a name that other businesses do not use.
- Visit your County Clerk’s office to conduct a search of assumed fictitious names, doing-business-as registries, and company names. This search will only reveal local registrations, but this will be sufficient if your LLC is a small, local business rather than a large, multistate one.
- Contact your state filing office. This is probably your Secretary of State, though a subsidiary agency might be in charge of business filings. Again, this will be limited only to businesses that have registered in the state, but this should be sufficient unless your LLC is very large.
- Search the Federal Trademark Database at the US Patent and Trademarks Office website. This will reveal more than just business names and will help avoid trademark infringement.
Being unaware of another preexisting similar or same business name will not excuse trademark infringement. You open yourself up to lawsuits or rejected filing papers if you do not conduct a thorough business name search in advance. Use as many different sources as possible when searching to maximize your results. Although you are hoping not to find any similar business names, be diligent in your efforts.
If you are unsure if a name is similar enough to cause problems, ask a business or trademark attorney for advice. Keep a complete record of your search so that you can document your efforts in the event of a lawsuit. This may help to minimize your liability as you can prove you were not negligent in your search and selection of a business name.
And remember: as soon as you find a business name that is available and that you would like to use, register it immediately. A detailed search won’t help you if a business snatches your name after you do your research but before you were able to register it.