By: Bridget Grier

You have a great idea and decide to develop it into a business. What will you name your business? Will you choose a name with sentimental value, one that is descriptive, or one that is catchy? Choosing a name is one of the first, and most important, decisions you will make as an entrepreneur. Compared to everything else you have to do to get your business off the ground, it may seem like one of the simplest decisions you will make, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

The information below will help guide you through the process of choosing a strong and sustainable business name.

Step 1

Brainstorm: Think of several different potential business names

What do you want your name to communicate? What product or service do you intend to sell, now and in the future? Some entrepreneurs decide to use the same name for their company and for their product. Remember, ideally your venture will evolve overtime. Suppose your product line grows, or your scope of services expands. For example, you create an app that allows people to search and sign up for marathons in particular geographic areas. Later, you decide to expand and offer web-based personal training. If your business name directly corresponds to one particular product or service, it may not fit your business a year from now, or five years from now. Choose a name that is flexible and adaptable.

Step 2

Business Entity Search: Is the name you want available?

At some point, you will probably decide to form an LLC or a corporation; these are entities that limit your personal liability. Click here to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of different types of entities.

When you do decide to form an entity, the name of your business must be unique, at least within your state. For example, I cannot form an entity in Michigan named Bridget’s Blogs if there is already a Michigan business with that name. You may not be ready to form an entity, but it is a good idea to plan ahead.

How do you find out whether the name you want is available? A business entity search is state specific. In Michigan, start your search on the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) website (which has a wealth of helpful information). Go to the Corporations, Securities & Commercial Licensing page; from there, click on Business Entity Search. Alternatively, you can call the Corporation Division of the Bureau of Commercial Services of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) at 517-241-6470 to find out whether the name you want is available.

The LARA website is specific to Michigan, but other states have similar websites; you may find them by googling “[state] business entity search.”

If you find that there is already an entity with the same name, you are precluded from using it; return to Step 1.

If, however, the name you want is available, move to Step 3.

Step 3

Trademark Search: Is the name you want trademarked?

First, what is a trademark? Essentially, a trademark is a brand name or identifier; it may be words or designs that are associated with a particular company.[1] Individuals and businesses can register trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark office and/or with the state in which their business operates.

Before committing to a name, check to see whether the name you want is already trademarked; trademark infringement is illegal. You should check the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and conduct a trademark search using a state specific database.

USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System: http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=tess&state=4806:k7r53n.1.1

Michigan Trademark Search:

https://cofs.lara.state.mi.us/corpweb/trademarksearch/trademarksearch.aspx

If you do find that the name you want is trademarked, pay attention to the trademark class. When someone trademarks a name or a design, the trademark is only applicable to specific categories, or classes, of products and/or services. Business #2 may register a trademark for a business name that is already trademarked, as long as the Business #2’s products/services are not confusingly similar to the products/services of Business #1, which registered the trademark first. You can learn more about trademark classes here.

Finally, the last point on business names and trademarks: avoid a business name that is generic or descriptive because it will be difficult for you to get your trademark approved. A name is generic if it refers to a general category of goods and services; for example, a bottled water company named WATER would be considered a generic term.[2] A descriptive name “describes an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose, or use of the specified goods or services.”[3]

Take a look at the USPTO’s guide, Possible Grounds for Refusal of a Mark, for more guidance.

Am I stuck with my name forever?

After choosing a name and forming an entity, you decide you no longer like the name you chose. Maybe it’s too common, or people don’t know how to pronounce it, or any number of reasons.

Fortunately, in Michigan, changing the name of your business is a simple, straightforward process.

In Michigan, to change the name of your LLC simply file a Certificate of Amendment to amend your Articles of Organization.[4] The filing fee (as of October 2019) is $25. The process for changing the name of a Michigan corporation is similar- file a Certificate of Amendment to the Articles of Incorporation. The filing fee (as of October 2019) is $10. If your entity is based outside of Michigan, you should consult the resources within your state.

Changing a trademark, however, is a more cumbersome process. If you filed a trademark application, you can only correct minor mistakes and typos and make limited changes to your application (update your address, add a disclaimer, update your application to reflect a transfer of ownership, etc.).[5] Many of the changes are free of charge, but others are $100 or $200 (depending on whether you electronically filed or paper filed.[6] If you want to trademark a new name, you will have to file a new application.

 

 

[1] USPTO: https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-getting-started/trademark-basics

[2] Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, October 2018: https://tmep.uspto.gov/RDMS/TMEP/current#/current/TMEP-1200d1e7149.html

[3] Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, October 2018: https://tmep.uspto.gov/RDMS/TMEP/current#/current/TMEP-1200d1e7149.html

[4] Limited Liability Company Changes: https://www.michigan.gov/lara/0,4601,7-154-89334_61343_35413_35429-120101–,00.html

[5] Changing Application Information After Notice of Publication or Allowance: https://www.uspto.gov/trademark/trademark-updates-and-announcements/procedures-submitting-amendmentscorrections-trademark

[6] USPTO Fee Schedule: https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/fees-and-payment/uspto-fee-schedule#TM%20Process%20Fee