A DBA, or "doing business as" name, is a fictitious name under which an individual or other business entity -- partnership or corporation -- conducts its business. While some individuals successfully market their personal name as a brand name, most people select a DBA which allows consumers to more easily recognize the product or service they are selling, and to avoid confusion with other businesses. Businesses must comply with the laws of each state in which they do businesses regarding DBA registration.
The right public name is an important asset to any business. A trade name distinguishes the products or services of one business from all others. If chosen correctly, the name will stick in consumers' heads and create positive associations with the product or service offered. A good DBA name will look good in your marketing materials, be easy to pronounce and not have any potentially offensive connotations. A DBA is not just a name under which a sole proprietor, small business or larger corporation markets a brand of products or services, it forms the framework of the business's identity.
Avoiding Business Confusion
An important function of a DBA is to distinguish your business from all others, and in so doing, avoid implying your business is associated with other organizations or individuals with whom you have no legal connection. Choosing a name too similar to that of another business may not only confuse customers and lose you market share, it may also be a trademark violation. A major legal requirement to conduct business in each state is that every business operate under a name not currently in use by, or confusingly similar to, another business operating in the state. Searching the Internet, county and state databases of registered trade names, and federal trademark database helps ensure a chosen DBA is available and not unlawfully similar to the name of another business.
Registration of a DBA notifies the public of the responsible party behind the name. When registering a DBA, you will likely have to name a registered agent, who resides in the state, to serve as the representative for the business. This allows members of the public or other businesses to locate the in-state agent of the DBA business to direct correspondence or legal documents.
Requirements for registering a DBA vary from state to state, but most states mandate registration with either the Secretary of State's office or local county registrar. Many states allow registration online, though the process and fees may differ depending on whether you are registering as an in-state or out-of-state DBA business. Changing the business name, address or registered agent usually requires prompt filing of an amendment to your DBA registration; this keeps state tax and business agencies as well as the public accurately informed of the business's contact information.
References & Resources
- Small Business Administration: Register Your Fictitious or "Doing Business As" Name
- Citizen Media Law Project: Choosing and Checking the Availability of a Business Name
- Idaho Small Business Solutions: Legal Structure and DBAs
- Small Business Administration: How to Name a Business
- Marketing Huddle: Importance of a Business Name
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