“DBA” is a fairly common term in business vocabulary. Short for “Doing Business As,” DBAs allow a company to conduct business under a name that’s different from their legal name. They’re also called fictitious names, trade names, or assumed names. In some states, the DBA is protected, too, preventing other businesses from using the name.
South Carolina, however, does not require filings for DBAs.
So what do you need to do? Your plan of attack varies based on the type of business you’re forming. In this guide, we’ll discuss what you can do instead. We’ll cover the steps for both unincorporated entities (i.e., sole proprietorships, partnerships, etc.) as well as incorporated entities.
Naming Steps for Sole Proprietorships & Partnerships
- Choose a name to operate under. If you are a sole proprietorship, your legal name will be your full name. However, you can use an assumed name, too. You should choose a name that you love and one that accurately represents your business.
- Ensure that your desired name is not protected by either the state or the United States Patent and Trademark Office. For one thing, in South Carolina, your name cannot be “the same as or deceptively similar to” names being used by incorporated entities. The names must be “grammatically” distinguishable. You can check statewide name availability by running a Business Name Search with the South Carolina Secretary of State. Then, you should also check that your name is not being used as a trademark. You can do so by running a Trademark Database Search.
- Consider protecting your name as a trademark. Since the state does not offer DBA registrations, there are no protections for business names of unincorporated entities. Trademark registration may be an option, however. Names are often included in trademarks, which are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. However, the circumstances surrounding whether or not you can register your name as a mark can be complicated, as can protecting the name. As a result, it’s advised to acquire legal counsel if you want to pursue trademark protection.
- Limited Partnerships can file an assumed name for their business. Limited partnerships are the only entity type that can submit and register a name that is different from their legal name. You can find the forms here.
Naming Steps for LLCs & Corporations
- Choose a name for your business. As you know, your business name is extremely important. If you’re an incorporated entity, there are more rules for you to follow. For one thing, your name must include a designation of your entity type. Corporations must include an abbreviation such as Inc. or Corp. LLCs should use LLC, Ltd., or a similar designation. This is a legal requirement for your business.
- Ensure that your name is available to use. Your business name must be “grammatically different” from a name that’s already being used by another entity. To determine name availability, you can run a Business Name Search. If there is a business name that matches yours or is extremely close, you’ll need to tweak your name a bit.
- Check that your name does not infringe on federally protected trademark. Similar to state-protected names, the United States Patent and Trademark Office maintains a trademark database that you can search here.
- Reserve your business name. You’ve done the legwork to make sure your name is available. Now make sure that work doesn’t go to waste. You can reserve your name if you’re not ready to incorporate right away. To do so, you’ll need to file a Name Reservation Application with the Secretary of State. Once accepted, this filing will give you 120 days of name protection.
A Few Pitfalls to Avoid:
One of the biggest advantages of registering a DBA in other states is that businesses can compare their names to others’ names. Since South Carolina doesn’t have this registration, you can’t use that database to make sure your name is unique. You can only compare your name to those of incorporated entities. To compare your name to those of unincorporated entities, you’ll need to do additional legwork. Ways to do this include running a Google search or looking in your local phonebook.
For more information on business names, you should check out the Business Filings FAQs offered by the Secretary of State. Find them here.