A common question people have when setting up their business is whether a DBA is needed if they can’t get the domain name that matches the business name.
For example, let’s say you want to conduct business under the name “Love Your Lawn.” You registered your Limited Liability Company as Love Your Lawn LLC, but when you started to build your website, the domain loveyourlawn.com is being used by someone else. Then you looked for loveyourlawn.net, loveyourlawn.org, and so on are also being used. What can you do?
Essentially there are two options.
- Change the name of your LLC
- Use another domain name
For consistency, some people will want to change the name of their LLC and, find an available domain name. Fortunately, the business can operate with a different domain and nothing needs to be done with the legal name of the business – though there are a few things to be aware of.
A business can operate under a name that is different from their trade name. For example, Love Your Lawn LLC can have a website under chicagobeautifullawns.com if they wanted. Just having a domain that is a different name from your business name does not constitute conducting business under that name. The website address is simply a way for people to find your business online, similar to a PO Box or street address.
Provided the business isn’t operating under the name Chicago Beautiful Lawns, they are free to operate under their Love Your Lawn company name. However, if Love Your Lawn LLC wanted to operate as Chicago Beautiful Lawns, they would then need to obtain a DBA name.
What is a DBA Name?
A DBA or “Doing Business As,” (sometimes referred to as a fictitious business name, assumed name or assumed business name) is a name that a business entity is operating under and is different from the legal name of the business.
DBAs are most commonly used by sole proprietorships and general partnerships as most states require the use of a DBA when the business operates under a name that is different from the owner’s full first and last name. The DBA filing commonly takes place at the county level through the County Clerk’s Office. There is often a requirement to run a legal notice in a local newspaper that has circulation in the county where the business is located.
LLCs and corporations register a business name when the entity is formed, but there are occasions when they will want to legally operate under a fictitious name. Registration takes place at the state level with the Secretary of State (or similarity named state department).
Related: When Do I Need to Register a DBA?
Something every small business owner needs to be aware of when selecting a business name or domain name is whether there is a registered trademark.
In the example of “Love Your Lawn”, someone has already registered a federal trademark application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office under that name – http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4809:1grqzl.11.37
When someone owns a registered trademark, they have exclusive rights to use that name. So, if you would have started a business under the name “Love Your Lawn,” the trademark holder could send a cease and desist letter requiring you to stop using the name and/or sue you for trademark infringement. Either way, this brings a lot of complications, which could result in the potential loss of customers as you rebrand the business.
As the trademark holder of Love Your Lawn has a trademark in the garden care services, they can go after any websites that market garden care services too. This makes it very important to check trademarks before deciding on a business name.
Be aware that having a DBA or forming a corporation or LLC does not give any rights to the business name. The counties and states that register business names do not cross-check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if they can legally be used.