This is a reprint of a guest post written by me that originally appeared on Mashable last year that I wanted to share it with you today.

Your business begins with a name.  It’s the cornerstone of your company identity and impacts your branding, company tone, and first impressions. Think about it. The branding of Target would be very different if the retailer still went by its original name, Dayton Dry Goods Company.

Selecting the right business name for your company is important — and it should be followed by taking the right legal steps to make sure the name is yours to use for years, and decades, to come. A prudent approach to naming entails three important steps: brainstorming, investigation and registration.

Step 1: The brainstorm

How you develop the perfect name is fairly subjective, so I won’t dwell on this point too much. But consider what’s important to you and your business; what’s the first thing you want a customer to think about with regard to your business. It’s best to brainstorm a dozen or so potential names. Poll your family and friends, and be sure to include your target demographic in this informal focus group. I’ve seen a few too many embarrassing examples where the business owner was simply unaware of an awkward pun or double meaning in their name (case in point: a nail salon called Get Nailed).

A descriptive name helps frame your company better than a generic one. For example, Speedy Electronics vs. Speedy. Adding this qualifier lets potential customers instantly know what you’re about. But don’t box yourself in with too detailed a description, since you might end up expanding your offerings down the road.

Most importantly, don’t get too attached to anyone name during the brainstorming process. I know it’s all too tempting to begin envisioning your company logo, web design, signage, business cards, and more. But you’ve got to make sure that perfect name is actually available to use.

Step 2: The investigation

Before you invest too much energy and excitement in a name, you’ll need to confirm that it’s available…first in the state where you are planning to conduct business, as well as nationwide. You definitely don’t want to be on the wrong end of a trademark dispute. Beyond punitive damages and legal fees, you might be ordered to rename your company/product immediately. All the money, time, and effort you invested building that brand will be wiped out, in an instant. And, if you try registering a trademark that is similar to an existing mark, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will reject your application straight away — and you won’t be able to get a refund on your application fee.

So how do you make sure you’re legally permitted to use a name?

  • Search corporate names in the secretary of state’s database in the state where you’re planning on setting up your business. You can conduct UNLIMITED amounts of business name searches using CorpNet.com’s Free Business Name Search service.
  • Next, you should conduct a Free Trademark search to see if your name is available for use in all 50 states at the federal level and whether you would be eligible to use that name in all 50 states. CorpNet.com offers a Free Trademark Search Tool which is a no cost search conducted nationwide and a great place to start to see if your name is available for use nationwide.
  • It’s important to know that you can infringe on someone else’s mark even if they’ve never formally registered it with the USPTO. For this reason, it’s always best to also conduct a Comprehensive Nationwide Trademark Search to make sure the name is not being used by others in state and local databases which would also include common law and county registrars and domain registrars. You can order your Comprehensive Nationwide Trademark Search online through CorpNet.com starting from an affordable fee of just $199.
  • You should also make sure that a domain name is available (on .com, .net, .biz and other domain extensions).

Step 3: Registration

After you’ve settled on a name, you need to register it with the proper authorities. This should be done as soon as possible to prevent someone else from registering it. An assumed name – also referred to as a “Fictitious Business Name” or “Doing Business As (DBA)” – is the easiest type of registration. This involves applying for a name at the county government offices and paying a fee.

You’re not actually required by law to register a trademark. Using a name instantly gives you common law rights as an owner, even without formal registration. However, you should consider registering your trademark for proper legal protection — after all, you’ve spent untold hours brainstorming the ideal name, and you’ll be putting even more effort into cultivating brand recognition. Registering a Trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a relatively easy process if you know what you are doing.  The good news is that CorpNet.com can relieve you of this hassle and prepare and submit your federal trademark application to the USPTO for just $149 (USPTO fees additional). Expect to pay approximately $325 per class for filing fees for each class that your mark would potentially fall under (that’s for filing directly online; it’s approximately $375 per class for paper filings). The process can take anywhere from 9-12 months once your application is submitted depending on the complexity of your mark.

So why register? Trademarks and brand names have value; they can be sold as corporate assets. But most importantly, trademarks registered with the USPTO enjoy significantly stronger protection than “common law” (unregistered) marks. As a personal anecdote, since we registered the mark CorpNet, it was exponentially easier to recover ‘CorpNet’ on Twitter, ‘CorpNet’ on Facebook, and ‘CorpNet’ on YouTube. In the long run, we saved a ton on the legal fees associated with getting injunctions — and all because we registered the trademark.

One other thing about registering… If you are considering incorporating your business or forming an LLC, you should do so before you register any trademarks. This places your trademark under the umbrella of the corporation or LLC.

The different corporate structures offer different benefits. CorpNet can help you to choose which structure is right for your business. Our Free Incorporation Guide explains the features of the various corporate entities. To further help you choose, read our Free LLC Guide to understand how this structure differs from a corporation.

As you journey through the process, be sure to take each stage seriously. Your name represents your brand and business. You should consider the name thoughtfully, and then take the right steps upfront to protect your name and identity.

CorpNet’s professional staff is here to assist you every step of the way… And once you know what you’re required to file, we can take care of the details for you!  If you have specific legal questions or concerns, you should consult an attorney for sound advice. After all, your business is worth it.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions to nakalp@corpnet.com.

Good luck!

Nellie:) xo