How Do I Know if My LLC Name Already Exists?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

How Do I Know if My LLC Name Already Exists?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

When forming a limited liability company, or LLC, you should come up with a unique name for your new business. Not only will a unique name help it stand out from the competition, it's also required by law. State laws require the name of your new LLC to be different from the names of other LLCs already operating in that state. To avoid trademark infringement, you should choose an LLC name that's distinguishable from the names of other businesses in the same industry.

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How do you know whether your LLC name already exists? Usually, it's as easy as conducting a few online searches.

1. Check your home state's records.

Start your search by going to the website for the Secretary of State in the state where you will operate your business. These sites usually have sections for businesses and tools that allow you to search for other LLCs by name. Input the name you want to use for your LLC, and check for matches.

Then conduct the same search for corporations with the name you want to use. Although it's legal in most states to register an LLC with the same name as an existing corporation, it's better to avoid possible trademark infringement. If you can't find an online search tool, call the Secretary of State's office, and ask them how to conduct the search. They might be able to do it for you on the spot.

2. Check the records of other states.

After searching in your LLC's home state, conduct the same type of search for each state where you think your LLC might do business in the future. If you decide to conduct business in another state, you'll have to register as a foreign LLC, and doing so requires a name that's unique from other existing businesses.

If an LLC with the same name already exists in another state, you can still register your LLC there; however, the process becomes more involved and usually requires the adoption of a fictitious business name for transactions occurring in that state.

3. Search trademark registrations.

Once you've cleared your LLC's name with the records of the states where it will operate, you should conduct searches to see whether any registered federal or state trademarks exist for the name. You can search federal trademarks with an online search tool provided by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Searching for state trademarks can be trickier. Because the Secretary of State typically oversees trademark registration, you'll start back at the Secretary of State's website. Find the section related to trademark registrations, which will tell you how to search the records for that state. Some states provide online search tools, while others require you to call the office or submit a more formal search request.

If you locate a state or federal trademark registration that matches your LLC's name, it does not necessarily prohibit you from using the name. You'll need to determine whether your LLC's name could infringe on the trademark. Consider how and where you plan to use your proposed LLC name and how and where the registered trademark appears. The USPTO website provides an abundance of information regarding how to conduct this analysis. You can also retain an intellectual property attorney for help.

4. Search Google and social media.

The last step is to search Google and popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to see whether anyone uses your desired LLC name for their business. As with trademark registrations, discovering another entity that uses the name does not prevent you from using it as well. It does, however, require careful consideration regarding possible copyright infringement.

When it's time for you to choose a name for your LLC, be sure to follow these steps to avoid potential legal consequences down the line. With some research and time dedicated to your LLC name searches, you'll know that you aren't infringing on anyone else's rights by using a name that is unavailable for use.

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.