What's a Trade Name?

Posted by Katherine L. Taylor, AttorneyAug 24, 20210 Comments

Has your business been using a name different from the formally registered name in your state? If so, you're using a trade name. Today I'm going to explain what a trade name is, what it isn't, and what you should do if you're using one. 

So first, what is a trade name? It is usually an informal name or phrase used by a person or another registered entity. Here's an example: the corporation that my practice operates under is called “Katherine L Taylor, PA;” “PA” stands for “professional association.” That's not catchy; it's not cute; it's not brandable, so a couple of years ago I decided to use the trade name “Taylor Legal.” What I had to do, however, was register that name with the state. Another example would be “Maryland Plumbing Services, LLC.” If Jess owns “Maryland Plumbing Services, LLC,” but doesn't want to use that long name and just wants to use “Jess's Plumbing,” “Jess's Plumbing” would be a trade name. 

That's what a trade name is, but what is it not? What a trade name is not is a trademark. A trademark that is registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is something altogether different. It is an intellectual property right that can be owned and registered with the USPTO; it's a completely different area of law from a trade name, even though they do have some similarities. What we're talking about is the state law equivalent of a “doing business as'' or a “trading as” name. 

If you're using a trade name, like when I decided to use “Taylor Legal,” you must register that trade name with the state in which your entity is registered already and in any state in which you do business. You also need to make sure that the owner of the trade name is registered as the formal entity under which you do business, and not you personally. This is important because the trade name puts the public on notice as to who they are doing business with. If you don't tie the trade name to your entity by registering it and having your entity own it, then that trade name is going to be tied to you individually; this will mean that the limited liability protection, which is one of the reasons why you formed an entity in the first place, could disappear.

So if you're using a trade name, you need to register it with the state in which your entity is already incorporated and in any state in which you do business, and you need to tie that trade name to your full entity name and not you individually. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. 

KATHERINE L. TAYLOR, ATTORNEY AND CPA

5850 Waterloo Rd

Suite 140

Columbia, MD

21045 443-420-4075

443-420-4075 (fax)