How to Check for DBA (Doing Business As) Names

By Joe Stone

Business owners who use a name other than their own name are using a DBA, which is short for “doing business as” and also referred to as a trade name, assumed name or fictitious business name. A DBA is desirable when you want a name for your business that more readily identifies your products or services. Using a DBA is also the easiest and least expensive way for you to establish a name for your business. Before using a DBA, you should check available sources to determine whether another business is using the same DBA.

State DBA Laws

DBA laws differ from state to state, but most states require some form of registration before you can use a DBA. Registration is made at a government office, either at the state, county or city level. A government database of records for DBA registrations should be available for public viewing at these offices. A list of the registration requirements for each state is available on the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

State Level Registration

States that require DBA registration at the state level of government typically require registration with the same state office that oversees the registration of corporations and trademarks. These state offices will have a database of registered names that can be searched via telephone or mail inquiry to the office, with some having online access to the database. For example, Florida requires DBA registration with the Division of Corporations of the Florida Department of State, which includes on its website a search engine for its database of registered DBA names.

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Local Level Registration

DBA registration at the local government level is done either at a county, city or town office. For example, county DBA registration typically occurs at the county clerk's office, such as in California, or at the county courthouse, such as in Georgia. Registration is typically required only in the county where the business is principally located. The county clerk's records can be checked for active DBA filings. In Massachusetts, the law requires DBA registration in every city or town clerk's office where the business is operating under an assumed name. Therefore, in any locality where the business is operating under an assumed name, the city or town clerk's records can be checked for a DBA.

Miscellaneous State Registration Laws

A few states -- Kansas, Mississippi and New Mexico -- do not require a DBA to be registered, nor do they have a procedure for registering a DBA, and so no government database of DBA names is available in these states. Arizona does not require DBA registration, but does have an optional registration procedure with the Secretary of State's office with a database of registered names that can be searched online. A search of this database, however, will not disclose those DBAs in use that are not registered.

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How do I Convert a DBA to LLC?
 

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How to Change From a DBA to an LLC

Any type of business can use a DBA, or "doing business as," designation as long as the proper paperwork is filed with the state where the business is operating. However, if the business is only using a DBA, it is most likely operating as a sole proprietorship. A sole proprietor must file articles of organization with the state to covert the business into a limited liability company, or LLC, and inform the state that the DBA registration is to be transferred to the new company.

How to Check a Name for a Trademark

The primary reason to conduct a trademark search is to avoid using a name for your business that cannot be registered with the federal or state government. Before using the name, it is important to check whether the name, or a very similar name, is currently in use. You can check the records of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for federally registered trademarks. State registered trademarks can be checked in the records of the state agency overseeing trademark registration. You should also research the market area where you do business to search for unregistered trademarks currently in use.

Do I Have to Use LLC in the Business Name?

The limited liability company, or LLC, is a creature of state law. As such, it is subject to the laws of the states in which it is organized and registered. All states have some requirements for the name of an LLC and generally have searchable online databases that allow you to determine whether your name has already been registered.

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