Make sure your small business can properly use its name

After a name is selected for the small business, search to see if that name is available for the small business. The law generally provides that if someone else is already using that name (sometimes referred to as mark, trademark, service mark or trade name) or a similar name and using that name for the small business would create a "likelihood of confusion" the small business will not be allowed to use that name. The principal factors to be considered are:

Important Tip Minor changes are usually sufficient to have a name accepted (for example, you can probably change Corp. to Corporation and still keep using your name - but it will also alert you to similarities).

Similarity. The similarity of the small business name to the other business' name; and

Relationship. the commercial relationship between the goods or services provided by the small business and the other business.

Confusion may be created even if the names are not identical and the goods or services are not the same. It may be enough that the names are similar and the goods or services related. This is a judgment call, but a good lawyer should be able to give you guidance.

Four key searches.

There are four key searches to make before a small business gets before too serious about using a name.

1. Google or other internet search.

First, enter it into a Google search. Do the search with the name alone and then with the type of small business. See how the name is being used and whether any of the other uses could be confused with the small business.

Another interesting thing from doing a search like this is that it may alert you to different meanings of the name for the small business. For example, when a small business law firm considered the name of legal beagles, it found out that term has another meaning that it wouldn't want.

2. Federal trademark register.

Second, check the list of trademarks registered with the Federal Government. A business name is a trademark. Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by. Luckily, this is a pretty easy search to conduct at a basic level. You may conduct a search online for free via the TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System) database of the United States Patent and Trademark office. For advanced situations, there are additional searches available — these pick up things like names used in various states, foreign countries and search things like Dun & Bradstreet and other brand name or business name registries.

If your mark includes a design element (logo, graphic, picture, design) you may also search it by using a design code. To locate the proper design code, please consult the Design Search Code Manual.

3. Secretary of State

Third, check with the Secretary of State's office in the State in which the small business will conduct business (in most states). They (or a similar agency in some states) keep a register of all names used in your state for different organizations. For example, in Colorado go to the Entity Name Search and fill in your desired entity name in the name availability box.

4. Domain names.

Finally, don't forget about domain names. For many businesses that operate on the Web, trade names are the same as domain names, such as and Domain names are not registered through state or local government. Domain names can be obtained through numerous online businesses, most of which will allow a name search prior to purchase to make sure the chosen name for the small business isn't taken. For example, offers this service. Be careful — many commentators suggest that services like 1and1 will take names that are searched for if they aren't paid for and registered right away.

Additional Information
Important Tip: 
Minor changes are usually sufficient to have a name accepted (for example, you can probably change Corp. to Corporation and still keep using your name - but it will also alert you to similarities).
Marketing copy: 
Starting Up a New Business