Naming your Business – Legal Issues to Consider

Good post by Small Business 2.0 on the creative side of choosing a business name: 18 Pithy Insights into Naming your small Business.

Here are a few points on the legal aspects of choosing a name for your New York business.

First it is helpful to understand that "business name" can mean different things in the legal context.  It could mean the legal name of a business, the fictitious (aka assumed name) of a business, or the trademark of a business.  Examples:

Legal Name: Joe formed a corporation with the name Kazooka, Inc. by filing a certificate of incorporation, which states that the corporation’s name is Kazooka, Inc., with New York’s Department of State.  Kazooka, Inc. is the legal name of the corporation.

Assumed Name:  Kazooka, Inc. operates a dry cleaning service under the name of "Squeaky".  This is an assumed name, because Kazooka, Inc. is doing business under a name different from its legal name. 

Trademark:  Kazooka, Inc. uses "Squeaky" to promote its service by displaying it on store signs, laundry bags, even t-shirts it hands out to its loyal customers.  By doing so, Kazooka, Inc. uses the business name "Squeaky" as a trademark and qualifies for state and federal trademark protection.  Actually, since they are selling a service, it would be called a service mark, but let’s not split hairs here. 

1. Legal Name Issues

You need to make sure that the legal name you choose for your business is available in New York and permissible under New York’s naming rules.

Availability

In the case of an LLC, a name would be available, if the name is distinguishable from other New York business entities, foreign business entities authorized to do business in New York, business entity names reserved with the Secretary of State, and assumed names registered with the Secretary of State. See Section 204(b) of the New York Limited Liability Company Law.

To find out whether your name is available, you can search New York’s business entity database.  However, that database won’t show you reserved names or assumed names.

Naming Rules

These rules tell you what the name of your entity must contain and which words or abbreviations are prohibited.

For corporate naming rules, check Section 301 New York Business Corporation Law.
For limited liability companies, check Section 204 New York Limited Liability Company Law.

2.  Assumed Name Issues

If you adopt an assumed name for your business, you have to know your DBA ("doing business as") responsibilities.  You have to register the assumed business name, either with your local county or with the Secretary of State.  See this earlier post on the topic of assumed business names.

Sidenote: If Kazooka, Inc. would have used "Kazooka" instead of "Kazooka, Inc." in its business dealings, the name would not be considered an assumed name.

3. Trademark Issues

You want to make sure that your name is capable of obtaining trademark protection and does not violate somebody else’s trademark. 

Names that are descriptive of what your business does, for
example, "Dry Cleaning Shop", won’t get trademark protection.  But
there are many more issues to consider.  If you are dreaming of developing a major brand, consult an attorney.  

Finding out whether your chosen business name would violate somebody else’s trademark is similarly tricky.  If "Squeaky" had already been in use by a dry cleaning establishment, Kazooka, Inc. may be in trouble.  Again, consult an attorney.

About Imke Ratschko


Imke Ratschko is a New York Attorney helping small businesses, business owners and entrepreneurs with all things "Small Business Law," such as litigation, contracts, business owner disputes, shareholder and operating agreements, sale or purchase of a business, investors, and starting a business. You can reach her at 212.253.1027.

12 comments

  1. Hello!
    I am concerned. I want to start an apparel/art distribution business and the name that I want is taken by a band. Are there legal issues concerning bands? If they give me permission, is it ok? If they don’t, can I get in trouble?
    Thanks for your time!
    Nicole

  2. Melinda Klubek

    I started an electrical contracting company within rochester new york, monroe county. One of the nieboring counties (livingston county) has a business rgistered in that county with the same name. I wanted to advertise in the phone book, but the phone book reaches livingston county where the other business name like mine is registered. I guess my question is can you do business and advertise in other counties other than the county your registered in?

  3. I heard that it is not wise to use the word “Institute” in a business name. What are the legal implications?

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  9. ne of the nieboring counties (livingston county) has a business rgistered in that county with the same name.

  10. In the early 20th Century the institution of “picture brides” sometimes developed due to immigration restrictions. The Japanese-American Passport Agreement of 1907 allowed Japan to grant passports to the wives of immigrants to America.With the immigration of unmarried Japanese women into America effectively barred, the use of “picture brides” provided a mechanism whereby willing women could gain a passport to America while Japanese workers in America could gain a female helpmate of their own nationality.

  11. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a United States government agency that provides support to small businesses.The SBA was created by way of the Small Business Act of July 30, 1953. The Small Business Development Center program grew out of the University Business Development Center (UBDC) program. A 1976 press release announcing the UBDC proclaimed that this new concept “could increase substantially the leverage SBA can provide in counseling and advising small business concerns.” The pilot program for the UBDC was established at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona in 1976. Throughout 1977 seven more universities received funding, including Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, and Maine.

  12. On June 18, 2010, Freeway Ricky Ross sued Rick Ross for using his name.Freeway Ricky Ross filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Ross in a California Federal Court.Jay-Z had been called to testify in the lawsuit, as he was CEO of Def Jam when Ross was signed.The reformed drug kingpin was looking for 10 million dollars in the lawsuit.Also, the release of his album, Teflon Don, was threatened to be blocked by Freeway Ricky Ross. A week after the filing of the lawsuit, Rick Ross responded to the charges: “It’s like owning a restaurant, you’re gonna have a few slip and falls. You get lawsuits, you deal with them, and get them out your way…sometimes you lose.He then denied rumours that he would change his name to “Ricky Rozay” as a consequence of the lawsuit. The lawsuit was thrown out of court on July 3, 2010 and his album, Teflon Don, was released on July 20 as scheduled.