This post is part of our ‘Ask a Lawyer’ series where Nilan Johnson Lewis, a Minneapolis-based law firm, answers your startup questions.

“I have a name in mind for my startup. What do I do next?”

Often when you have a great idea for a startup, you may also have a name in mind. It’s important to check if your name is already taken to avoid infringement, and luckily, there are three great online resources available to the public:

  1. The Secretary of State Business Database: Most states list registered businesses in a database maintained by the State Secretary of State (here’s a link to Minnesota’s database). Make sure to search inactive businesses as well as active, because if an organization recently was administratively removed (i.e. they forgot to file the annual renewal), They have a right to pay a reinstatement fee, and their entity would take precedence. If the name you want is not already listed, we recommend either forming your entity to reserve your name, or applying for a name reservation.
  2. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): The USPTO maintains a database of trademarks. A simple trademark search will let you know if there are any national competitive uses of the name or brand you intend to use.
  3. Google: Finally, conduct a Google search and review the first few pages of search results for both positive and negative information related to the name.

While naming your startup may be one of the first times that it feels like a “real” business, it’s important to take the time to claim that name to avoid any legal complications or expensive charges down the line.

Sukanya Momsen

This post does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.