Small Business First Steps: Protecting Your Business Name
When dreaming of starting their own small business, most entrepreneurs, after deciding what type of business to start, turn to deciding what to call their business. As a business owner, you want to select a name that establishes a brand identity, but doesn’t clash with the types of products and services you offer.
No matter how creative you get with your name, there’s a good chance that out of nearly 30 million other small businesses in the nation, someone else might come up with something similar (if they haven’t already). Once you’ve decided on a business name you like, you want to protect it.
Registering Your Business
There are four different ways to register your business name and each one serves a different purpose and offers a different level of protection.
Doing Business As (DBA)
DBA doesn’t give legal protection, but might be legally required.
Entity name protects you at state level.
Trademark protects you at a federal level.
Domain name protects your business website address.
Here in Iowa, the two most common business registrations depend on what type of business structure you have.
If you’re a sole proprietor, your option is to register your business name — typically a DBA — with the county recorder’s office in your county. You should bear in mind that this doesn’t necessarily protect you from anyone in another county in Iowa from using the same or similar name, nor will it protect you from someone else in another state from using it.
If you set up a business entity in Iowa (in other words, anything other than a sole proprietorship), you will do so through the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. Whether or not you choose a Corporation, LLC or one of the numerous other business entity structures, you’ll register your entity name. Once you’ve done that, you’ve established protection for your name in the state of Iowa. The Iowa Secretary of State’s website offers more information on this. In addition to information on entity filing, you can also do a search of business entity names already filed in Iowa. This is a great tool for seeing if someone else in the state is already using a name you’d like to use.
If you want to protect your business name beyond the state of Iowa, you’ll need to consider a trademark. If you want to protect your business website name, you’ll need to look at domain name protection. Learn more about protecting your business name from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Find more tips on starting and growing your business at sba.gov. Learn more about The Partnership’s Business Resources offerings, including connecting locally, globally, workplace wellness, inclusion and more.
Discover more about The Partnership’s tools to help Greater Des Moines (DSM) entrepreneurs and startups develop and grow their ventures with Small Business Resources.
Small Business Administration
The Small Business Administration Iowa is responsible for the delivery of the SBA's many programs and services to the 99 counties in Iowa, consisting of 2.9 million Iowans and some 240,000 small businesses.