The question came up a couple of days back in our Facebook student and alumni group about choosing a name for a doula business. Specifically, the issue came up in picking a business name that was already in use by a doula in another state. The student then asked: “Can/should I pick a different name?”
The answer to this student’s question can go in either direction depending upon several considerations. Whether or not a business name will be in direct competition with another organization’s name within the same region of service is probably the single more important factor for consideration.
How to register a business name and whether or not you can or cannot use a business name being used by someone else, somewhere else, ultimately is a question that is decided at the level of the states within the United States. Outside of the U.S., you’ll want to contact your local business regulating government agency for further details about what is or isn’t permissible in your area. For our intents and purposes here, I will focus the majority of my remarks on U.S. business regulations.
Within the United States, there are two aspects of business name regulation that are worthy of our consideration as we do our due diligence to determine business name availability: 1) business name registration at the state level and 2) trademark registration through the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO). The purposes of these institutions is to ensure that a business name is distinguishable from another and that the rights of an organization to a registered brand are protected.
Yet there is a difference between registering a business and securing a trademark. In the U.S., business entities are registered at a state level only and never at the federal level. Generally speaking, it’s entirely legitimate and legal to have the same name as someone in another state. It is not necessary nor required to register a trademark for your business name or logo.
When choosing a business name, you might ask yourself: will you, or another company that already has the name that you want, ever expand to the point that you would be considered competing within the same state? If there is even a slight possibility that you would answer “yes,” my personal recommendation would be to use something else.
Respecting Established Brands
When selecting a business name, a major pitfall to be avoided is to associate your business name with an existing brand or organization. Not only is it illegal, there can be serious financial repercussions in the form of legal fees and/or fines for forming your business around an existing brand.
For example, a childbirth educator several years ago established a business that made reference to the Bradley Method® of husband-coached childbirth. The name Bradley was used in the the birth educator’s business name. Unfortunately, if you go and visit the Bradley Method® website (www.bradleybirth.com), and scroll down to the bottom of the home page, you can read:
For the protection of the public, the terms, “The Bradley Method®” and “American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth™” are Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Only those teachers currently affiliated with the Academy may teach The Bradley Method®.
The Registered symbol ( ® ) and the Trademark symbols (™) indicates that a name or image has been registered with the USPTO. Other popular names that a doulas or other birthing professional might be tempted to associate themselves with might include: HypnoBirthing®, DONA®, CAPPA, Lamaze®, and others.
If you are tempted to associate your business name with an already established brand, my advice is this: Don’t do it! Be original, creative, and unique. Have enough confidence in your own abilities to build your business!
The Advantages of Being Small
Doulas, for the most part, are not interested in creating a globally-recognized brand or employing many of the other business instruments that are put in place to help with the management of large business and brands. Keep it small and simple, and you will be able to bypass altogether many of the expenses and fees associated with the setup of larger businesses.
This is especially true with establishing a business name. While you will have to consult your state’s business registry for available business names, and you would probably want to review the USPTO’s website for names already registered, it’s most unlikely that you would find the need of registering your own business name or logo for trademark protection at the federal level with the USPTO. It is a lengthy process of up to six months, and unnecessary for most small businesses.
Being a small business, your primary concern will be to establish a uniquely distinguishable name at the state level.
Picking a Domain Name
For some people, domain name availability is a major player in determining a business name. There are, however, no laws governing the association of your domain name with your actual business name.Your domain name may be closely associated with your actual business name. However, you can use your domain name to describe the nature of your business instead. Certain domain names may be protected by trademark law. Avoid infringement if at all suspected. Again, be sure to not associate your domain name with registered and protected brands.
This Is How We Roll
Using our own business name as a case study, New Beginnings is a very common business name in Arizona. There are 74 businesses with the words “New Beginnings” in their business name as of this writing. However, New Beginnings Childbirth Services, LLC, (our legal name) is the only business in Arizona with this particular and distinguishable name.
In the state of Colorado, which is kiddy-corner to Arizona, there are 313 businesses results with the words “New Beginnings” in their name — one of those being a doula service, but its a different state so it doesn’t matter. Arizona is only concerned with businesses in Arizona.
In Arizona, the Arizona Corporate Commission is the governing organization that serves the State of Arizona to determine “whether or not an entity’s name is distinguishable” from other business names on file.
While our business deals with clients internationally, our only registered physical location for conducting business is within the state of Arizona. Conceivably, someone else in another state could also register a doula training organization with the exact same business name. Am I concerned with this? Not really.
Perhaps this comes from personal experience setting up my first business some 14 years ago, where I spent more money on the setup of my business, the legal fees, and the equipment that I needed to buy, instead of the actual service that was to be performed. At the end of the failed venture, we had no money left, and nothing to show for our efforts. It was a very frustrating position to be in, having spent too much money on the “necessities” of setting up a business, which included $2000 USD in legal fees to make sure our business was properly setup and protected. It was a huge waste of time and resources.
We’ve learned to focus on the service that we are providing, and to attend to the bare minimum requirements of being a business entity when needed.
So go out there an pick a name that works for you. Don’t over-think it. Pick a name, sit on it for five days. If you still like when you come back to it, get it registered and move on. Your business name (whatever it is) will not be nearly as memorable as the experience of quality service that your clients have with you. Satisfied clients are what will get you name spread, more than a catching phrase or play on words with paid advertising.
When it comes time to register your business, part of the process will be to check the availability of your business name. Do a Google search for “(Name of state) business name search” to find your local state’s name registry.
You’ll probably do good to verify that your exact business name is not registered as a federal trade mark either. To do so, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office‘s website.
If the name you want is taken, don’t be discouraged. It really is just a name of a business that will some day end. So find something you can be happy with, and then move on.