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How to check if a name is trademarked

Do you have a business name in mind but don’t know whether it's available? Learn how to check if a name is trademarked before launching your new business by reading our article.

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Starting a new small business comes with a lot of responsibilities and decisions. Nonetheless, one of the most important choices a business owner will make is selecting a company name. A business name not only identifies who you are a brand, but it also helps distinguish you in the market against your competition. This is precisely why selecting a name that represents your goals and objectives is key. 


With that being said, someone with the same business mindset may already have your company name trademarked. As a result, if you don’t do your research, you could unintentionally commit trademark infringement and face legal action. However, there are ways you can avoid legal action by conducting a basic word mark search online. Therefore, to learn how to check if a name is trademarked, keep reading. 

How do I check if a name is trademarked?

A trademark is a type of intellectual property that contains recognizable: 

  • Design elements, design marks, or symbols 
  • Valuable phrases or expressions 

These recognizable elements help distinguish the goods and services of one company, individual, or organization from other ones that are operating in the same economic sector as them. It also provides the company, individual, or organization with trademark rights that legally prevents others from operating under the same name, design elements, symbols, or expressions. 

Therefore, before you move ahead with your chosen company name for your new small business, it is crucial that business owners conduct an online search using a search engine to determine the trademark status of said name. Here is a list of search options you have and how you can search trademarked names by doing a simple public search online (1). 

1. Use a general search engine 

One of the easiest methods of doing a trademark name search is to use a general search engine. For example, simply type the business name you are thinking of using into Google and see if there are any similar names already in use that are selling similar goods and services to your proposed business. 

2. Use a fictitious name database 

If your search engine shows a couple hits, but still not enough to provide you with a clear indication of whether there is a trademark status on your chosen name, you can then check with your county clerk office. By using a fictitious name database, you’ll have access to small businesses that are “doing business as,” but have yet to officially register their trademark name, stay clear regardless. Later down the line, this could lead to legal issues on both ends that could end up costing you hundreds to thousands of dollars in legal fees that is otherwise avoidable. 

3. Corporation, limited partners, and limited liability company database

If you are planning on choosing a limited partnership, corporation, or limited liability company business structure, then you will need to make sure that there is no other business using the same as yours. You can do so by reaching out to your Secretary of State filing office. They should be able to provide you with a link to a state trademark 

office website database for more information. 

4. Unregistered names 

Unregistered business names can still cause problems for you as a business owner. Therefore, use common domain name sites such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other common platforms on the internet to see if there are any hits for the names you have searched. 

5. Registered trademarks at uspto.gov 

Furthermore, to do a trademark for all registered federal trademarks, you will need to use the United States patent and trademark office (USPTO). The official U.S. patent and trademark office website has a free trademark database. It is important that you use their database to avoid willful infringement of the trademark information that is available on the UPSTO website. 

This is because if you are to use a trademark name that is listed in this database, the trademark owner can sue you under trademark law for “knowingly violating” the rights of the owner. As such, you could be fined thousands of dollars. To avoid this, we suggest consulting with a law firm and seeking legal advice from a trademark attorney in the event that your chosen name is highly similar to one that is already trademarked to avoid legal penalties later down the line. 

How to register a business name

Moreover, there are three options business owners have when it comes to registering their company name (2). For more information on how the application process is completed, take a look below: 

1. Business entity 

Once you have determined your business name that is not used by someone else in your state, you may wish to operate as a corporation or LLC. By filing your articles of organization with the State Secretary Office, your business name would have protection by the state you are registered in. This means that no one else is able to operate under the same name as you within the state. However, if you expand to another state or internationally, you may not be able to register under the same name if it is already in use. 

2. DBA assumed name 

Business owners who wish to operate as sole proprietors, partnerships, corporations, or LLCs, under a business name that is the same as their legal or assumed name will simply have to register with their county office or their state agency. The only problem with this form of name registration is that it is likely that your name will only be registered in that county. Therefore, if you want to expand you will have to re-register. In addition, there is also the chance that the assumed name is not available elsewhere. 

3. Trademark registration 

The last method to register your business name is to file for a trademark application. Once you have searched your name on the trademark electronic search system, you can then apply with the U.S. patent and trademark office. This will provide your name with nationwide protection. 

There are also options to apply for international trademark protection as well if you plan on expanding your business operations across the world. However, to do so, you will need to file your trademark in the country that you seek to do business in. Nonetheless, you can file an international trademark on the USPTO website. 

Furthermore, once you have submitted your application for international protection, it will then go under review within the United States, an international review bureau, and the individual foreign country before you will either be accepted or denied. 

Frequently asked questions

Do you have more questions on how to check if a name is trademarked? Check through our FAQs for more information. 

How do I check if a name is trademarked or copyrighted?

To check if a name is trademarked or protected under copyright, business owners can go to the United States patent and trademark office (uspto) or their online database. However, entrepreneurs should keep in mind that trademarks are typically used for design elements, design marks, or symbols, and valuable phrases or expressions. To search design elements, you can use a design search code manual to reference any similarities. On the other hand, copyright for music, lyrics, and other artistic forms of media. To search this, you can go to copyright.gov and use their search catalog. 

How do I check if a business name is available for free?

All business name inquiries are free and can be found online through your county clerk’s office, your state secretary’s office, and the U.S. patent and trademark office. You can also use search engines and social media to see if there are any businesses that pop up when you search the name as well. 

How do I register a business name for free?

Business name registration in the United States is not free. The cost to register your business name will vary depending on the state you wish to operate in. While you can operate as an unregistered name, you will run the risk of another business owner choosing to register that name. As a result, you may face legal action later down the line if the business owner trademarks the same name that you are using as an unregistered owner. Therefore, it is best to register your business name to provide yourself with protection and save yourself the trouble later down the line. 

References

  1. Information Property Rights Information & Assistance https://www.stopfakes.gov/article?id=How-to-Check-if-a-Trademark-is-Already-Registered 
  1. Business Name Generator https://businessnamegenerator.com/how-to-find-out-if-a-business-name-is-taken-available/ 
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