Do You Need a DBA?
Filing a DBA (“Doing Business As”) is a common step for businesses. Depending on your state, the DBA might also be called a “trade name,” “assumed name,” or “fictitious name,” and allows you to conduct business under a different name for advertising, branding, and other things. The legal name of the business for a sole proprietorship is the owner’s personal name, and the last names of the partners for a partnership, but with a DBA you can also conduct business under a different business name. The DBA is useful for business owners who don’t want to use their own names for a business name.
In many states, a business must register a DBA with the local or state government in order to use that name to do business. There are some states, however, where you do not have to register—but it might still be a good to get some legal protection for the name by registering with the local government.
Here are a few other scenarios where you will want a DBA:
- Opening a business bank account using the name of the business
- A franchise business that wants to do business under the franchise’s name (check to see if necessary)
- Corporations or LLCs that want to use a name that differs from the official name of the corporation or LLC, or that operate other businesses using different names.
DBA Filing Process
First, you will need to confirm that the DBA name you want is not already in use by another business. Once you have performed that search, the process is quite simple. There will be a simple form for you to fill out and file with the Secretary of State or County Clerk. You will also have to pay an application fee, but the amount is often just a nominal charge.
There are a few states where you will also have to go to the local newspaper and publish your name. The other major limitation is that the DBA you register for also has an expiration date; you can lose the right to use the name if you don’t renew.
Trademark and Legal Issues
While a DBA is very useful, you should know some of its limitations, too. First, a DBA is not the same as a trademark. You will not have full trademark protection just from filing a DBA, so if you want trademark protection then you will need to go through a separate process. Other businesses might be able to use the same name you’ve filed for in your DBA. There are some jurisdictions that even allow two different entities to register the same name, although most jurisdictions do not allow that.
Conversely, a DBA also does not shield you from claims that you are infringing on another company’s trademark. You have to watch out for unregistered trademarks, which, by definition, are not registered by the government. You’ll recognize them because they use the TM and their owners have property rights. With research, you should be able to determine if someone else is already using the name you want to use in your region, helping you to avoid a complicated legal battle.
When you find the fictitious name that you want and it’s not protected by anyone else, it might be a good idea to take that next step beyond the DBA, and go through the trademark process.
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