Business name vs. entity name

Do my business name and my entity name have to match? Not necessarily. We all know that starting a business is a many-step process and, when it comes to selecting names, the steps involved may not occur in the same order for everyone.

Maybe you have formed an LLC but find that another company in a closely related field is already operating somewhere else under that name. Or possibly a trademark search conducted after your entity’s formation reveals that a trademark application has already been filed by someone else for your desired moniker. You don’t need to change the name of your LLC, but opening a business under, let alone securing trademark rights for, this name is probably not going to be smooth sailing.

Perhaps you are opening a new arm of an existing corporation and looking to name this new venture. Or maybe you are the sole proprietor of a small business that you intend to operate under a company name. These would all be instances in which a trade name, or DBA, allowing you to do business under a “fictitious” name, would be appropriate.

In most states, there is minimal paperwork and cost associated with registering a trade name to an existing entity or yourself. It is, however, important to remember that registration of a name with your local secretary of state (whether it’s an LLC, corporation, or trade name) and registering a trademark with the USPTO are not the same thing. Just like the common law rights that come from using a trademark in commerce, forming an entity or creating a DBA does not protect your rights to that name. Entity incorporation also does not count as use in commerce.

So, to recap: an entity is not a trademark. If you don’t want to, or can’t, do business under your entity name, you can apply for a DBA. Do some research, perform a trademark search, and, once you settle on a business name, do make sure to register it as a trademark. The first use date for your trademark registration will be the date you actually start selling your goods or providing services.

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