Clients often ask me how to check if a business name is available in Pennsylvania.  Rightfully so.  In order to register your corporation, nonprofit, partnership, or LLC in Pennsylvania, you must have a name that is distinguishable from the other registered businesses.  On a more practical level, you want to check name availability before you create your brand, order business cards, signs, and product labels, etc.

How to Check Business Name Availability

It is simple to check whether a business name is available in Pennsylvania.

First, visit the Pennsylvania Department of State website.  The state’s website offers various search options.  I usually search by “starting with” and if I don’t generate any hits, I move to an “any words” search.

Second, check variations on the name and the spelling.  You do not want to choose a name that is confusingly similar to an existing business.  This is particularly important if your business will have a strong online presence.

For example, you want to name your business Keystone Consultants.

  1. Do a “starting with” search for “Keystone”.   You see a list of 250 names that begin with “Keystone”.
  2. Narrow the search to “Keystone Consulting”.  You find Keystone Consulting, LLC and Keystone Consulting, Inc. so you can´t use those names.  How about a variation on the name?
  3. Search by contains “all words”.  Here, you find another 100 variations, such a First Keystone Consultants and Keystone Cleaning Consultants.
  4. If you are set on using Keystone in your name, you will have to get very creative to find a distinctive name that is not already taken.  Otherwise, you can select another name.

Other Business Name Searches

If your desired business name is available in Pennsylvania, you should then do at least 3 more searches.

First, use an internet search engine.  Since most businesses have an online presence of some sort (even if it is just a phone number) you will quickly see if someone in another state is using the name.  If someone in New York is using your name and appears to have a national presence (for example, an online store), then you might want to avoid that name in case you (or they) expand into a national business brand.

Second, you should check the US Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).  This is a more complicated search and Concerto Law regularly performs these searches for its clients.  If you are willing to take the time to learn how to use TESS, you can search for names that have registered a trademark.  Even if these businesses have not registered their name in Pennsylvania, you cannot use the business name because they registered it on a national level.  To do so is to infringe on the trademark and put you at risk of significant legal and business expenses.

Third, check domain name registries for availability.  While this isn’t necessary, you don’t want to compete with many other websites that sound like your business.  There are creative ways to handle situations when someone else has the domain name you want to use.  Concerto Law can help you brainstorm some solutions.  The main point, though, is that a domain name search gives you an idea of how hard it will be to compete in the online marketplace.

There are also other private business name registries.  If you intend to create a national or global business, you might want to do a more thorough search with these other options.

Still Have Questions?

Contact Concerto Law.  Located in Warren, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout the state of Pennsylvania.  We love to help entrepreneurs launch, grow, and nurture their businesses.

For more information on launching a new business or nonprofit, check out the free resources on this site.