What is a Name Search?
Now that you feel you have chosen a good name, here is how you check to verify if it is available. The only way to know if someone already has the rights to the name that you want to use is to conduct a professional name search. This involves looking in the most common places where a person could be using the name in order to know if someone already has rights to the name. Here are the places you need to look:
1. Search for the name online. Type the name in quotation marks: “Start Your nonprofit” to see if any nonprofits in the same class (offering similar products and services) are using the name or a name very close to yours.
2. Search Federal Trademark Filings. Search for the name within the United States Patent & Trademark registrations. Visit www.USPTO.gov. You want to look at pending, active, and inactive filings as well.
3. Search State Trademark Registrations. All 50 states allow owners to register their trademark on a state level. It is often cheaper than the federal registration process and provides protection throughout the state – although a federal registration gives you rights throughout all 50 states and can supersede a state registration. You can complete this search by going to the Division of Corporations website for each state and searching their trademark filings for the name you are interested in.
4. Search state company registrations. All 50 states allow nonprofits to register their companies. You want to search to see if any other companies are registered using your name. Although registering by itself does not give them rights, using the name with their products and services to the public in commerce does. You can complete this search by going to the Division of Corporations website for each state and searching their corporate filings (be sure to look for all of the business types including nonprofits, corporations, etc.) for the name you are interested in.
5. Search domain names. You can visit www.GoDaddy.com and select the “Who Is” option to see who owns the domain name if it is already taken. Try and search for the company and owner to see if they are actively using the name in association with similar goods and services as yours.
6. Get a Legal Opinion. It’s always less expensive to do things yourself. However, trademark law is interpreted very specifically. This means that just because you feel that your name is not similar, or you feel that someone has abandoned their rights to a name, does not mean the law or a judge would see it the same way. The few hundred dollars that you invest in hiring an attorney to know for sure could save you thousands of dollars defending a lawsuit later down the road.
Comprehensive Professional Name Search
My law firm offers a Comprehensive Professional Name Search to our clients. Our name search examines all of the sources we identified above including federal trademark filings, state trademark filings, company filings, domain names, as well as nonprofit registries and common law listings. We also include a legal opinion where we list the sources we searched, review the findings and provide you with a legal opinion on the name to let you know if we feel that it is legally protectable based on the law. The purpose of this service is to make sure our clients are not using a name that they will be sued for later.