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Coming up with a business name may be harder than you think. First, think of ideas for your name that are descriptive of the business, standout and grabs customers' attention, and are easily remembered. You should come up with several ideas because most business names are registered trade or service marks, granting the business the exclusive use of that name in a certain geographic area or for a certain type of business. Your local or state government may also have laws dictating how certain types of businesses must be named.
The first and easiest step is to make sure you are allowed to call yourself what you want to call yourself. If a license or other credential is required to engage in the occupation do you have that license? A quick way to get into legal trouble is to mislead customers into thinking that you have a credential that you do not actually have.
Next, what will your business structure be; will you be a sole proprietorship, a partnership a corporation? How you decide to organize your business may affect what you can call yourself. In some states a sole proprietorship is required to do business under the owner's name. Most states allow an exception if a "doing business as" or "fictitious business name" registration is filed. A fictitious name is any assumed name or designation other than the legal name of the business, so if you want to call your business something other than your real name you should file for a fictitious name.
Partnerships usually must include the partners' names in the business name, corporations usually are required to include "Inc." and limited liability companies must include LLC or Limited Liability Company in the business name. The legal reason for this requirement is to inform your customers as to whom they are doing business with. If a business that has limited liability does not advertise that fact to their customers the owners may lose their limited liability protection and be held personally liable if they are sued.
A business does not have to register its name to operate under the name but a registered name does provide more legal protections in case you do have to sue a similarly named business. In your state either your state Secretary of State or Lieutenant Governor is responsible for registering business names. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for the registration of all trade and service marks and provides a free search of currently registered marks.
Once you decide on your legal and business name you need to get a website, called a domain name. Even if you do not plan on doing business on the internet a web page is now an essential business tool. When you look up a business on the internet and cannot find their web page do you inherently think twice about doing business with them?
Business owners of course would like to register the same web page name as their business name, but that is not always possible. While every page on the internet must be uniquely named not every business in the world has a unique name. You may need to get creative by adding additional characters or words to your business name to create a suitable internet home.
Internet domains are sold by Domain Name Registrars, such as Go Daddy, Network Solutions and Register.com. Different domain categories such as .com, .edu, .net, .org etc ... may be sold by different registrars. You can also search for available web site names at each of the Registrars' web sites.
Hopefully this How-To has helped explain the legal steps to create a business name. Remember, create a name that is available, legal and fits your business structure.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified business lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local business attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.