Choosing a good name for your business can help you succeed in your new endeavor. When starting a small business, you might want a name that is as simple as Pete's Pizzeria. Depending on the type of business entity you are setting up, you'll have to register it with a county clerk in Michigan or state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA. You don't have to register your business at all if you give it your legal name.
Sole proprietorships and co-partnerships, which consist of two or more people and can be dissolved or changed with the signature of one of the parties, register their business name in the county where the business is located. This enables the county to know the identity of the actual owner or owners of businesses in their jurisdiction. If Pete's Pizzeria expands, you'll also need to register your business name in other counties where you are operating.. Your business name is known as an "assumed" or "doing business as" name. If you are setting up a limited partnership, limited liability company or a corporation, you file the appropriate papers to begin operations, which include the request for your business name, with LARA.
Checking County Availability
If you are a sole proprietorship or co-partnership, you can check the county website where you intend to file for your assumed name to find business names that are already registered. If your proposed name is the same as another business, or so similar as to cause confusion or deception, you'll have to select a different name. If your name is not in use, you may file an Assumed Name Certificate at the county clerk's office in person or by mail. Filing fees are quite reasonable -- in Wayne County, for example, it costs $10 to acquire your assumed name.
Checking State Availability
If you are a limited partnership, limited liability company or corporation, you can check the state's website at LARA to see if the name you've selected is already in use. Your proposed name must be "distinguishable" from other business names in Michigan. Legally, it is distinguishable if it has a different sequence of letters or numbers from any other businesses that are registered. In addition to the website at LARA, you can contact the Michigan Business Services Section by phone, fax or mail to check names.
The granting of a business name by a Michigan county or the state itself doesn't protect you from claims that you are infringing on a trademark owned by another business. To make sure you are in the clear, search the federal trademark registry before filing your application. You'll find it online at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website.
If you want to reserve a business name while you are in the process of setting up a corporation, limited partnership or limited liability company, you can do so by filing an Application for Reservation of Name form with the state. Depending on your business entity, a name can be reserved for six to eight months.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.