Businesses commonly use a “doing business as” name, or DBA, when they want to use a name other than the business’s legal name. For example, since a sole proprietor's legal business name is the same as his name, he might decide that a DBA such as "Valley Plumbing Supply" is more descriptive than "Herb Jones." States that require registration of a DBA generally allow you to use it as long as you like, but most require you to renew the registration every few years.
State DBA Laws
Each state creates its own laws governing DBA registration and duration, though the procedures have many similarities across jurisdictions. When a state requires registration of a DBA, it’s usually for the protection of consumers. For example, if you wanted to open a restaurant and you were able to use the same name as the restaurant down the block, customers would be confused as to whether the businesses were related or not. Registration helps eliminate some of those problems, and the requirement to renew your registration helps the state keep track of whether the name is still in use.
DBA Registration Requirements
Registering a DBA generally requires preparation of a short application form and payment of a fee to your state or county government. In California, for example, you need to file the registration documents with the county clerk in the county where you operate the business and intend on using the DBA. Texas, on the other hand, requires registration with the secretary of state as well as with your local county clerk. And in New York, it depends on the type of business entity that's applying for the DBA: corporations register their DBAs with the New York Secretary of State’s office, whereas sole proprietors register at the county clerk’s office. Renewing your registration typically requires a similar procedure. In California, for example, you file the same form and pay the same fee as when you first registered, and you simply check a box that indicates you're renewing an existing DBA.
When to Renew Your DBA
When you register your DBA, you'll typically want to keep track of when it expires. For example, if you register in California, you’ll need to renew the DBA after five years. If registering in Texas, you can use the DBA for 10 years, and in New York, no renewal is necessary: once you register the DBA, it’s effective indefinitely. As long as you stay on top of your DBA’s expiration date, you can continue to renew it as long as you like -- it’s certainly possible that the DBA will be good for as long as you run your business.
Registering a DBA doesn’t necessarily give you any rights to its future use, especially if you let it expire. You also are not allowed to use a DBA exclusively throughout the country. You typically have the right to use the trade name during the current registration period, and according to your jurisdiction's laws. For example, if you registered at the county level, usually this ensures that no one else in the county can use that name, but laws vary among jurisdictions. If you let the DBA registration expire, another business is usually free to register the same name -- so you run the risk of having to change your business name, even if you've been using it for years.