Once you've come up with some ideas for distinctive names, you'll need to be sure you're not stepping on an existing name or trademark.
Don't Use Famous Names
As a first rule, don't use part of a famous name and hope you'll get away with it because you plan to use it in a different way, as in Microsoft Cushions, or M & M Marketing. If you attract the attention of the big guys, you'll be threatened with a lawsuit and will most likely have to change your business name on all of your marketing material.
Conduct a Name Search
For not so famous names, you'll have to do a name search to find out if the same name, or similar names, are already in use, and how they're being used. If another company is using the same or a similar name to market different products and services, it may be fine for you to use the name for your business. For more information on doing a name search and analyzing your findings to figure out if you can use a particular name, read Nolo's article Make Sure Your Proposed Business Name is Available.
Check for Identical Names of Corporations, LLCs, or Limited Partnerships
Finally, if your business is a corporation, LLC, or limited partnership, in addition to checking for existing trademarks, you must be sure your business name isn't the same as that of an existing corporation, LLC, or limited partnership in your state. You'll have to contact your state filing office to find out how to search their name databases. (See Nolo's article How to Form a Corporation for more on choosing and finding available corporate names and Nolo's article How to Form an LLC for the same information on LLC names.)
Is a Domain Name Available That's Similar to Your Business Name?
If your business will have a website, you must decide what your domain name (the address used to identify your website) will be. Using all or part of your business name in your domain name will make your website easier for potential customers to find. Since many domain names are already taken, check what's available before you settle on your business name. You can search for available domain names by visiting a domain name registrar such as register.com. For help with selecting and registering a domain name, see Nolo's article Choose and Register a Domain Name.
Registering Your Business Name
Once you've chosen an available business name, you may have to -- or want to -- register it with the local, state, or federal government, depending on your circumstances.
If your business is organized as a corporation, LLC, or limited partnership, your official business name should be automatically registered with the state when you file your articles of incorporation, articles of organization, or statement of limited partnership.
But no matter what type of business you have, you may also need to file a fictitious or assumed business name statement and register your name for trademark protection at the state or federal level. For more information, see Nolo's article Registering Your Business Name.
For a useful guide and lots of tips on picking a name for your business, including how to conduct trademark searches and how to register your trademark, get Nolo's eGuide, Trademark Basics for Naming a Business, by Peri H. Pakroo.
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