Suppose you are a founder of a startup, and you haven’t incorporated your company yet. You know it will cost money, and you want to defer that expense as long as possible (although you really should read this post before waiting too long). Finally, the day comes when you file your incorporation papers, and disaster strikes! Your startup’s name isn’t available — either someone else has already set up a company with that name or a very similar name, or someone else has reserved the name you wanted. Perhaps during the development stage of your startup, you were using the name informally, and someone you met along the way, or someone who heard of what you were doing, liked the name and decided to adopt it as their own. Take the jump to find out what you can do to avoid this situation.
States will generally allow you to search available names, and to reserve a name in advance. For example, in Ohio you can go to this link and type in the name you want to use, and it will come back with all similar names. For Delaware, you would go to this link to search for names. Those searches will give you an idea of whether you will have a problem with someone else using the same or a similar name.
Practice tip for California: prospective names are only checked against the names of like entities registered with those states. So, a proposed corporation name is only checked against corporation names, and a proposed LLC name is only checked against LLC names. You will want to run your search on each potential entity that are considering.
Practice tip for Delaware: When you run your search, you will be asked to search names within a particular type of entity (for example, corporations), and ending in a particular suffix (for example, “inc.” or “corp.”). The search results will tell you whether the names is available or not, regardless of the type of entity. Even so, to be on the safe side run the search for each potential entity, with a variety of suffixes.
If the name availability search returns favorable results, the next step is to actually reserve the name you want. In Ohio, you can reserve a name for up to 180 days. Delaware is not as generous. You can only reserve names for 120 days in Delaware. There is a small fee for the name reservation service, and in most cases you can do it online. Even if you are not immediately ready to incorporate, you should definitely spend the money to reserve your desired name.
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