The Entrepreneur’s Corner

What's in a (business) name?
A business name is important. It can tell the public what you offer, it can distinguish the business from others and it can cause the business owners problems if not carefully considered.

Many new business owners spend a great deal of time thinking up their business names without clearing the name before using it and then not properly using it once they get going. A business name is the commercial name a business uses and it may not be the same as the name of the corporation or limited liability company that owns the business.

A few simple checks can help relieve a business owner from name problems in the business down the road.

The first thing a business owner should check is whether the name is available for use as a name for a business entity at the Virginia State Corporation Commission. If the chosen name is not available, keep trying until you have a name that you can use.

The exact name of the business entity, including the “Inc.” or “LLC” at the end, is the name of the entity and the name that has to be used if nothing else is done. These endings are what inform customers that they are not dealing with an individual, but a business entity when they do business with you.

Many people drop the Inc. or LLC and do not realize that by doing that, they individually are using the name and that the corporation or LLC is no longer involved in the business.

The business name should also be checked for violations of another’s trademark rights before using it. This can be easily checked online at the Patent and Trademark Office for federal trademarks and at the State Corporation Commission for state trademarks.

How does a business use just the good part of its name without the Inc. or LLC and how do multiple businesses use the same name, like in a franchise system? This is done by filing what is called a Certificate of Assumed Name – a fairly simple document that says what the business entity’s true name is, what name it wants to use in business and the address at which it will use the name.

This document gets filed at the Circuit Court in the jurisdiction where the business is located and a certified copy of that filing gets filed with the State Corporation Commission.

That way, members of the public can know that the McDonalds at a certain address is really owned by a franchisee called XYZ, LLC and not McDonalds Corporation. All of this information is available publicly, so everyone is considered to have access to it.

Jim Wilson is an attorney who works with people starting, buying, selling and financing businesses and franchises. He has almost 20 years’ experience working with small businesses in the Richmond area. You can contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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