Marketing and other experts will undoubtedly have pages of advice for you on how to choose the best name for your business. Given my background, I’ll approach it from the legal perspective. My advice is essentially two-fold: choose a business name that (i) is available and (ii) you can use as a trademark (should you decide to). Below are some considerations:
1. Descriptive name vs unique name. A business owner may be attracted to a business name that describes the services or products that the company provides. For example, names such as “Joe’s Pizza” or “Murray Street Cleaners” let the others know immediately what that company does. However, beware: descriptive names are not protected as trademarks, so others can use the same or similar names to provide similar services or products.
2. Name availability in the state of incorporation. Check with the Department of State of your state of incorporation whether the name is available. Typically, the Division of Corporations (or a similar entity) of the Department of State keeps a list of all business names that are already in use, and will reject the filing if the name is not available. When checking name availability, typically disregard words such as “the,” “company,” or “corporation.” Different states may have different rules regarding name availability. For example, in California, disregard all geographic names and numerals. So, the business name “Clearview America, Inc.” would conflict with “Clearview, Inc.” because the word “America” is a geographic location and therefore is disregarded. Also, “First Web Solutions, Inc.” will be deemed to be conflicting with “Web Solutions, Inc.”
3. Name availability in other states. Next, check with the Departments of State of every other state where your company will be doing business regarding whether the name is available there.
4. Trademark report. Finally, determine if the name is available to be used as a trademark. This rule does not apply to every business. Building a brand calls for a unique name that is also available as a trademark (i.e., available to be used as an identifier of the source of goods or services). If another company already owns a trademark on the name you chose for your business, you may not be able to use it as a trademark (especially if your business is offering similar goods or services) although you may still be able to form your company under that name with the Department of State. Therefore, before committing to any name, check whether it is available as a trademark. The easiest way to do it is by searching for the name in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database. However, this will only search federally registered or pending trademarks. A comprehensive search should also include a search of databases of state trademark offices as well as a “common law” search that includes the Internet and state business registrations. A comprehensive trademark search is typically ordered from trademark research companies, and then reviewed by a trademark attorney. Government Liaison Services, Inc. is one such company. Another one is Thomson Compumark.
Choosing a good business name takes time and effort, but is an important step in business formation. It is an exercise in balancing the creation of a unique brand identity, on one hand, and the need for the name to identify your business and carry a message about it, on the other hand.
This article is not a legal advice, and was written for general informational purposes only. If you have questions or comments about the article or are interested in learning more about this topic, feel free to contact its author, Arina Shulga. Ms. Shulga is the founder of Shulga Law Firm, P.C., a New York-based boutique law firm specializing in advising individual and corporate clients on aspects of business, corporate, securities, and intellectual property law.