Safeguarding your business name

How to protect your business name

It distinguishes your brand, carries your reputation, and connects with your customers. It’s your business name, and it’s one of the most important things you’ll need to protect.

There are a few steps you can take to register and safeguard your business name, so that a potential competitor can’t start a business with an identical or similar name. After all, you’ll want to avoid your reputation suffering, confusing your customers and losing business.

Choosing a suitable name

There are a number of factors you should consider when choosing an appropriate business name, including:

  • Branding – how your name will come across on a logo, social media or your website.
  • Uniqueness – choosing an original name is essential.
  • Meaning – does your name reflect your business philosophy and appeal to your target market? Does it have any unwanted undertones?

You’ll need a business name that has a domain name available and can be registered and protected into the foreseeable future.

Registering a DBA (trade) name

If you’re a sole proprietor or you’re starting a partnership under a name that isn’t your real name, you’ll need to register for a ‘doing business as’ (DBA) trade name. It’s also sometimes referred to as an assumed or fictitious name.

Your DBA name will let your state government know that you’re doing business under a name different to your personal name or the legal name of your business.

How to register a DBA name

You can register your ‘doing business as’ name with your state government or county clerk’s office. Be aware though that not all states require new businesses to register DBA names. Select your state on the SBA’s register with state agencies web page to find out.

As an example, if Tony Johnson sets up a landscaping business in Texas and wants to name it ‘Johnson’s Land Scapes’, he’ll need to register it as a DBA name in Texas.

Using your own personal name

You can use your own name for your business. And if you choose to do so, you can skip the process of registering a DBA name.

Starting a company

If you’re setting up a limited liability company and want to trade under another name that isn’t your company name, you’ll also have to register. For example, your business might be registered as ‘The Mushroom Farm 2016 Pty’ but you plan to promote and trade as ‘Mushroom World.’

Applying for trademark protection

You’ll definitely want to protect your business name from being copied, especially before you begin to build up a loyal customer base. A trademark will protect your logo and the brand name used on your products or services.

To give your business name legal protection, apply for a federally registered trademark by meeting two conditions. Your business name:

  • Has to be distinctive.
  • Can’t create confusion with other registered trademarks.

Trademarks can be registered at state and federal level. To register your trademark at federal level, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website. You can file for a trademark for less than $300.

Make sure you also use the USPTO’s trademark search tool to find out if your proposed name (or something similar) already exists.

Speak to an intellectual property lawyer

It can be difficult to detect whether your chosen trademark might be clashing with another business’s trademark, and the penalties for making this mistake can be heavy. For these reasons, think about talking to an experienced intellectual property (IP) lawyer to ensure you’re covering all the bases.

Safeguarding your online business name

Even if you don’t intend to run a website from day one, it’s important to register for a domain name to make sure your business name is available as an Internet address.

It’s a smart move to brainstorm a domain name that’s:

  • Reflective of what your business does.
  • Key word heavy.
  • Unique and available.

Be sure to conduct your own checks over the Internet to be certain no one else is already using your preferred address. Test your proposed domain name in the WHOIS database to see if it’s available.

Consider registering multiple domain names (for example, if your business name is Fresh Veg, you might register ‘freshveg.com’, ‘freshveg.info’ and ‘freshveg.us’.

Learn more about how to register a domain name through the SBA’s guide.

Next steps

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