Do General Partnerships Require a DBA?

by John Cromwell

DBA, or doing business as, occurs when a business operates under a name other than its legal name. A general partnership can always choose to use its legal name, which is the combination of the names of the partners; a DBA is not required. If the partnership chooses to operate using a name other than its legal name, however, many states require that the business register this name.

Legal Title

A general partnership is a business organization comprised of two or more people. Each partner is equally liable for the partnership's obligations. Most states do not require that general partners register with an agency. The legal name of partnerships is based on the names of the participants. So if Paul Bunyan and John Henry start a business partnership, the legal name would normally be Bunyan & Henry. A partnership using its legal name would not need to file a DBA, because it is apparent from the business's title who a customer would sue if she had a claim against the partnership. In this example, it would be Bunyan and Henry.

Doing Business As

The states that require business to register a DBA intend to provide a form of protection for the consumer. Sometimes a partnership will advertise its services under another name. For example, Bunyan & Henry may advertise their services as Tall Tale Partners. In that case, it is “doing business as” Tall Tale Partners. A consumer may only know a business by its DBA, but many states require a plaintiff in a lawsuit to identify the defendant by its legal name. By being able to determine a partnership’s legal name through a search of state records, it would be easier for a consumer to file suit if she has a claim.

Registration Requirements

Whether a general partnership needs to register a DBA depends on where the business is located. Some states require that a DBA form be filed with the secretary of state where the business located. Other states require that the name be registered in the clerk’s office in the county where the business is headquartered. A few do not require that DBAs be registered at all

Considerations

If a partnership wants to legally protect its name as a brand, a DBA will not provide any legal protection. In that case, the business might choose to register its DBA as a trademark or service mark. A trademark is a legal protection for a word, phrase, symbol, design, or combination of those elements used by a business to identify its goods or services in the marketplace. State common law protects trademarks from being used by competitors, and registration is not required. However, a mark can be registered federally with the Patent and Trademark Office, if the business chooses to do so.