Choosing the name that your company or brand will be known as to the entire world of potential consumers is one of the most important decisions you will make when starting out on your new business venture. You will have invested time in picking that perfect name that not only appeals to you and reflects the image you want your company to portray to the world, but also appeals to the customer you are targeting. You will have spent hours, days, or even months testing it out on anyone who will give you a minute of time. You will have exhausted your creative talents and the talents of those around you. And, once you have done this and finally selected that perfect name you will need to see if you can even use that name as you intend. You see, choosing that perfect name is just the tip of the iceberg. You still have to make sure that that perfect moniker is available for you to use and that all the time and resources you will now devote to building that name into a known quantity is not wasted because someone else felt it was the perfect name for their brand before you did.
To assure that your preferred name is available for use, you will need to perform at a minimum the following five searches.
1. Federal Trademark Search
Not every business name needs to be trademarked, and in fact not every business name will qualify for trademark protection. However, performing a search of the Federal Trademark database at www.uspto.gov should be performed to assure your chosen name does not infringe on another company’s trademark. Hiring an experienced trademark attorney to perform the search, and file application documents if necessary, is recommended. However, if hiring an attorney is not an option, there are trademark search firms that can be used as a less expensive alternative. If less expensive is still not inexpensive enough for your current situation, then you can perform the search yourself as the USPTO website is available for public use.
2. Domain Name Search
After your name has cleared the trademark hurdle, the next stop should be an online domain name registrar website, such as www.godaddy.com, www.1and1.com, www.register.com, and countless others, to check and see what related domain names are available for registration or for purchase. Getting your actual chosen name may be difficult, as most all commonly known words, phrases and different variations thereof have long been snapped up and registered. The more unique, specific or fanciful (a trademark term meaning a word that is invented strictly to be used as a brand identifier or trademark) the more likely you are going to find an available domain name. If your chosen name is not available, don’t despair, choosing a domain name that will still serve as an appropriate address for your business is still possible, you just may have to be a bit more creative. But remember, take care when choosing that address, your domain name is likely to be just as important as choosing your company or brand name as in our digital world your web address will serve as at least one of, if not the address that your customers will use to find you.
3. State Corporation/LLC Name Registration Database & County Fictitious Business Name Filings
A search of your state’s corporation and LLC name registration database should be performed by businesses that intend on organizing as a corporation or an LLC, but should also be performed by other businesses as well to determine if any other companies may operate under the name you have chosen. The first two searches will reveal registered trademarks and registered domains, but they will not identify companies that are operating and lay claim to a right to use a name but have not taken the steps to apply for a trademark or register their domain name. Though you may be able to register your trademark, those previously unidentified companies may have a right superior to your right to the name under state law.
Like a search of your state’s corporation and LLC name registration database, a search of your local Fictitious Business Name (“FBN”) (aka “doing business as” or “dba”) database with your county (and the surrounding counties) will help you flush out any businesses that may be using the same name. Again, even if they have not registered their name as a trademark they may still have a right under state law to the use the name. This is especially important for businesses that will operate locally. It is also a must if your business will not operate as a corporation or LLC, as you will be required to obtain an FBN if you will operate under any name but your own name.
4. Social Networking Sites
Though not an impediment to your right to use a name, not using your company or brand name as your social media handles on Facebook and Twitter could be an obstacle to your development of your brand awareness in the future. Checking the major sites, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., is certainly necessary; but, who knows what the next social media darling will be a year from now, so it could be wise to check as many as you can. A great site to help do this is knowem.com. Simply type in the name you want and the site searches hundreds of different sites and shows you the results.
5. Google/Yellow Pages/Local Directories Search
A general search of Google for the name you intend to use is a good idea to track down any businesses or entities operating with your chosen name that the above searches may not have turned up. It is also a good idea to perform searches in the Yellow Pages and in other local directories. While such local searches are more important for businesses that will operate with a local presence, they can also be useful for start-up businesses of all types to catch any possible name conflict problems at the outset. It is better to know of the potential conflicts going in, before they become problems, so that you can better plan your strategy and make educated decisions on how you want to proceed.
While is it always recommended that you seek professional legal advice regarding your rights to a company or brand name, if you perform these searches and your chosen name comes up clean, you should feel more secure in your right to proceed in using that name to identify your company, products or services.