From the Wall Street Journal ...
There isn't a one-stop place to find out whether a business name is already in use, so it requires some checking around. A good start is a thorough Internet search ... If you do come across another business using the name, there are a couple questions to ask: Is the business in the same industry as yours? Is it operating nationally or solely in its local area? Would prospective customers confuse your business with the other business?
Under federal trademark law, a business can claim rights to a name if it's first to use a name in a particular category of business in the geographic area it serves. So you want to determine whether another business in your industry is using the same name in the same geographic region you are. A business still has rights to the name if it is using the name publicly -- even if it hasn't officially registered it for trademark protection.
The next step is to go to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web site
, to see whether another business has officially registered the name for federal trademark protection. Click on "Trademarks" on the left navigation bar. Then click on "Search TM database" on the left to access the trademark search database.
If another business has registered the name, you're typically restricted from using it only if that business is registered in the same category of business as yours or sells the same goods and services. If the businesses are totally different -- say, you're a bakery and the other business using your chosen name is a florist -- then it probably isn't a problem.
But you do want to ensure that your business name won't be confused with another business in your area ... the last thing you want is your potential customers to be confused ... and end up having to change the name.
Some businesses register trademarks only in their state, so check with your state's trademark authority as well. Many states have online databases. You also can hire a naming consultant or a trademark attorney to conduct an exhaustive name search.
Another issue: Make sure there's a domain name available that closely matches the name for your company, since that will be important if you want your business to have a Web presence.
[Jim's 2 cents: I suggest PowerPipe.com to check domains and to register yours. They do offer optional services but also make it easy to “point" your name to a different web most service, et al.]
Jim’s checklist for picking a name ...
Picking a name for a new venture, product or service is not easy. Picking the wrong name could prove disastrous; the right name (brand) could add many sales dollars. The following checklist should help. However, it is unlikely that any name will meet all these criteria, and there have been many successful names that met but a few. Good luck!
- Is the name distinctive?
- Is the name instantly recognized?
- Is the name easy to remember?
- Is the name pleasant to see?
- Is the name pleasant to say?
- Is the name easy to spell?
- Is the name itself confusing?
- Is the name easily confused with other names?
- Is there a connection between the name and the product, service, or business venture it represents?
- Does the name suggest what the business venture, product, or service does?
- Is the name descriptive of the benefits offered by the product, service, or business venture?
- Does the name convey the proper image?
- Does the name fit customers' expectations?
- Does the name reinforce customer expectations?
- Are there any negative connotations with the name
- Is the name limiting?
- Does the name coordinate with other names used in the organization?
- Does the name work in all target markets?
- Can the name be legally protected?