How to Acquire an Abandoned Company Name

By Brette Sember, J.D.

How to Acquire an Abandoned Company Name

By Brette Sember, J.D.

A company's name is legally owned by that company and is individual to that company. That means that if the name is properly registered, no one else can use it. If a company abandons its name and you want to take over use of the name, there are procedures you will need to follow.

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Permission to Take Over a Name

One way to be authorized to use another company's name is to get their permission to do so. The state in which the business is located can allow that company to transfer its legal business name to another entity. This is a good option if the company has gone out of business as well as for an existing business that perhaps has chosen to redirect its focus. For example, if Jan's Furniture Repair has changed its business strategy and now only does upholstery, it may have stopped using that name and now uses Jan's Upholstery. The name transfer must be in writing and ideally should transfer all worldwide rights to the name. So, if you'd like to take over a name that you believe has been abandoned, the simplest avenue may be to ask the company if they will transfer it to you. You may have to negotiate a fee for transfer.

Once you receive written permission, you can form your own business according to your state's requirements (which differ depending on your business structure). Submit the transfer agreement with your documents so that you can show the state you have obtained the right to use the name.

State Registration of an Abandoned Name

If you aren't able to get permission or don't want to try but know that the name is no longer in use, you can go ahead and submit the documents for forming your company to your state. The state checks the availability of all business names when business formation documents are filed. If the name was registered in your state, it will be listed in the state's business entity database. The company may be listed as inactive or dissolved if they are no longer using the name.

  • If the company is inactive, you may not be able to use its name.
  • If the company is listed as dissolved, the name may be available for your use.

Note that it's common for a state to have a waiting period before the name of a company that is inactive or dissolved can be used by another business entity. The company has an opportunity to reactivate their business within that time frame, so you might have to wait for the name to become available, even if it is not being used.

DBA Business Name

If a person or company wants to do business under a name other than their legal name, they need to file a "doing business as" (DBA) registration with the state, county, or city. This registration permits a person or business to work under a name other than their personal legal name or the name their company is registered as. If the name you would like to use is a name that has been registered as a DBA name, you'll need to check if a DBA cancellation has been filed. It is generally required that the business cancel the registration when they stop using the name. If it has been cancelled, you can submit your own DBA registration for the name.

Problems with Using Abandoned Names

Even if a company name has been abandoned and is available for your use, it may not be the best choice to use it. It's possible the company's name was trademarked with other states or with the federal government, so even thought the name might be available in your state, if you try to use it in other states, you could be barred from doing so.

Another consideration is that when you take on an existing name, you take on its reputation. So, if the previous company had problems with customers or creditors, this could reflect poorly on your company. It can also simply be confusing for consumers if you use a name they associated with a different company in the past.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.