So….you’re starting a business. You’ve got a cool idea, a plan, and perhaps some money or some help. What you really need to get going, though, is – a name.
You’re on your own for the creative part – I’ve had a hard enough time naming pets. I do want to point out some things to consider when you’re deciding which name to use.
Start by looking at domain names. You’ll want one. Even if your business isn’t particularly internet-involved, your online presence is your stake in the ground. Having a website makes it easier for potential customers to find you and serves as a hub for your advertising efforts. It’s easy evidence of use, should you ever decide to trademark the name. Using the domain name yourself also keeps it out of the hands of others who might otherwise claim it and use it against you.
So go do some searching. This site will let you see which domain names are available, while Google results will give you some insight into how similar names are being used.
While you’re checking domain names, you’ll also want to see if others are using the name you want, or anything similar. Do you really want to start your brand new business by explaining to the world that you’re .biz, not .com, and those other folks with the .com aren’t you? How much time do you want to spend clarifying that your business is the one with the extra “b” in its name? It’s just not worth it for a brand new business that no one knows about yet.
If your chosen name is free, great! But don’t celebrate quite yet – you still need to consider trademarks.
A trademark identifies someone’s product as his or hers rather that someone else’s. For instance, when Nike puts its swoosh on a running shoe, that tells you that it’s a Nike shoe rather than one from someone else. Trademark owners, especially well-known ones, have puts lots of time and money into becoming well-known – and won’t hesitate to prevent you from piggybacking on their efforts or undermining them. So you might think “Widgets R Us” is a great name for a new business making widgets, but Toys R Us might disagree. Or you might want to use “Barbbie” for a line of dolls, but Mattel (maker of Barbie and all her friends and their accessories) might have something to say about that.
So go back to your Google results. As well, check TESS, the US government’s Trademark Electronic Search System. This is a database of all the federally-registered trademarks. What comes up that you don’t want to be confused with? Are they your competition, or on the other side of the world and in a different business?
This serves two purposes – it saves picking a fight over someone else’s trademark, when they probably have deeper pockets and more at stake, and it’s a pretty good indicator that the coast is clear for you to register your own trademark when it’s time.
If your name has survived these hurdles, you should do a couple more quick checks for safety. If you’re starting a corporation or LLC, check that the name’s not taken with your state’s Secretary of State. If you’re incorporating in Delaware (or somewhere else outside your state), check there too. Most states will allow only one business with the same name.
Questions? Want to know how this applies to your particular situation? Contact us – we’ll walk you through it step by step.