DBAs - The 'What,' 'Why,' and 'How' of Trade Names - Daniel Ross & Associates

WHAT IS A DBA?

A “Doing Business As” registration – also known as a DBA, trade name, fictitious business name, or assumed name – is a useful and sometimes necessary tool for conducting business. A DBA allows a company to operate under a name other than its true legal name, which may not be desirable to use for a number of reasons.

A DBA, or trade name, should not be confused with a trademark. Although trade names often serve the same basic function as trademarks (identifying the source of a good or service), a trade name is not “reserved” and does not offer strong protection against confusingly similar names like a trademark would.

BENEFITS OF A DBA

Trade names exist for a variety of reasons. For one, they allow companies to adopt a more “brand-friendly” name without going through the hassle of amending their articles, obtaining a new EIN, and the like. Any one company can have an unlimited number of DBAs, providing significant flexibility to a company with multiple business operations. At around $39 in Ohio, DBAs are a very affordable alternative to organizing or incorporating another entity. A DBA will also allow you to open another business banking account so that each of the company’s operations have separate capital accounts.

Along the same lines, a company with a popular owner, figure, or mascot can use a DBA to operate under that individual’s name – “Jane Doe’s Apple Company” rather than its true legal name, “XYZ Corporation,” for example. Note that there is a difference between having a trade name that includes a personal name and simply doing business under a personal name. Without a DBA, this example would be a violation of business formalities.

As we see above, DBAs are sometimes required for compliance with law. Primarily, limited liability entities require you to conduct business solely in the name of the company to protect your limited liability status. Any variation on the company’s legal name will take it out of compliance if that variant name is not registered (for example, a company filed as “XYZ Corporation” doing business as “XYZ Shop” or “XYZ.com” will jeopardize limited liability without a DBA for each trade name). Sole proprietors doing business under a name that is not their legal name also need a DBA to stay in good legal standing.

OBTAINING A DBA

Trade names are obtained by registering with the state, county, or city in which your business operates. In Ohio, the Secretary of State handles trade name registration.

The first step in pursuing a DBA should always be to consult your state business name registry (Ohio’s can be found here) and the U.S. Trademark TESS database to ensure that your trade name doesn’t infringe on any trademarks or other “reserved” names. While state registries are usually simple systems, the federal trademark registry can be more complicated to navigate.

Once you’ve determined that your trade name is available, the application itself is straightforward. Most states have online filing with a turnaround time of 1-3 business days. In Ohio, you can find Form 534A here to begin the DBA registration process.

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