How to Choose a Business Name That Won't Get You Sued

September 23, 2015 | Charles Bowen

How to choose a small business name

Choosing a name for your company is one of the more intriguing aspects of delving into the world of business. Your name becomes your identity to the outside world;

it becomes synonymous with the products and services you offer. On its own, a business name may seem completely innocuous or even silly, but once that connection is made, it takes on a deeper meaning and becomes an integral part of your overall brand.

Some business names are chosen based on personal preference or history, some are a variation of the owner’s name and some are strategically manufactured to resonate with prospective customers right out of the gate.

While this marketing component of choosing a business name is important, it is the legal elements that may stop you dead in your tracks. Great products and customer service can overcome a goofy name choice, but if you aren’t playing by the legal rules, you may end up getting sued. Here are some crucial tips to follow throughout the process.   

Scanning for Trademarks

Searching through the database on the U.S. Patent and Trade Office's website will let you know if your chosen business name is a registered trademark. In the U.S., whoever uses the name first has the trademark protection. It’s important to search for the exact name, plus variations of the name that include misspellings and similar sounding words or phrases. If you’re all clear, you may want to perform a basic internet search for a business name that’s similar to the one you want.

Along with the legal component, you don’t want to choose a name that is similar enough to another business to cause confusion. If you feel there is a chance that a prospective customer might find the other business when searching for what you sell, then you might want to reconsider. This is especially true if you both sell similar products and services or have similar sales areas.

Copyright Protection

You may also run into trouble naming your business in the form of copyright infringement. Copyright law is designed to protect an idea or concept. If an expression or slogan has been copyrighted, you can’t use that expression in the name of your business. This is a federal law, so it’s best to ensure you aren’t walking along the fringes of someone else’s copyright when naming your company.

Keeping It Clean

If you plan on being a little edgy with your business name, keep in mind that there are both state and federal laws that prohibit names suggesting illegal activity, use profanity or provoke indecent thoughts. If you’re unsure, you may want to get some legal advice before starting the process so you aren’t sent back to the drawing board.

Don’t Forget Your Domain Name

For the vast majority of companies--even smaller local ones--you won’t be able to compete in your industry without a website. And your website needs a domain name (or url) for customers to enter in the search bar. If your business name is clear of any obstacles but the domain name you want is taken, you may need to re-think your strategy. The domain name isn’t an issue that will get you sued because you just won’t be able to use it, but if your company is called “Bill’s Plumbing” and “billsplumbing.com” is already taken, your prospective customers may end up finding someone else when it should have been you.   

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Topics: Starting a Business in Georgia