By Teri Williams
As the largest Black-owned bank in America and first Black-owned digital bank, OneUnited wants to make sure our community owns the brands we build. Many times, we do not take the necessary steps to secure the ownership of our name. Let’s say you have a great business and a great name. Do you own it? And what does “owning” mean?
The first question we ask in 2023 is “Do you own you?”
Here are three steps you can take to secure your business ownership rights:
Search your name
Trademark law prevents a business from using a name that is likely to be confused with the name of a competing business. If you choose a business name that’s too similar to a competitor’s name, you might find yourself accused of violating the competitor’s legal rights (called “trademark infringement” or “unfair competition”), and you could be forced to change your business name and possibly pay money damages.
So, do some digging to avoid the wrong name choice. Type your business name into Google to see whether someone else is using a similar name to market similar products or services. If you find that your name (or a very similar name) is already being used, you must choose another one.
Search for federally registered trademarks by using the free trademark database of the United States Patent & Trademark Office (or USPTO).
Check with your city
/state clerk’s office to see whether your desired name is already on the list of fictitious or assumed business names in your community. These names are usually unregistered trademarks of very small companies. If you find that your chosen name (or a very similar name) is listed on a local fictitious or assumed name register, you shouldn’t use it.
If you’re organizing your business as a corporation, LLC or limited partnership, check to make sure your name isn’t the same as an existing corporation, LLC or limited partnership in your state. Contact your state filing office to find out how to search its name database. If your proposed name (or a very similar one) shows up in your state’s database, you’ll have to choose another.
Register your domain name
There are dozens of online companies that have been approved to register domain names. Before registering your domain, use websites like — and —- to easily check if a proposed domain name is available. A listing of these registrars can be accessed at the ICANN website (icann.org). An example of a domain name register is Network Solutions.
You can go to the Network Solutions (networksolutions.com) and key in the name you want to use. If your domain name is available, buy it immediately! The cost is relatively low for you to own your domain name.
If your domain name is not available, see if the website is currently in use. If yes, chances are you won’t be able to use the name. If no, the owner may be willing to sell you the domain name for prices that range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars depending on the name. You can typically locate information about the owner of the domain name by using whois.net. Type in the domain name and the website provides the contact information supplied by the domain name registrant.
Be flexible about your business name. If your current choice is being used, try, try again. It’s more important that you identify a name that you can trademark and also own the domain name – to make sure that you own you!
Trademark your name
Once you’ve completed the research, you’ll be ready to trademark your name to secure your rights to the name! We recommend hiring an intellectual property attorney. You can look for one in your area at National Black Lawyers (NBL) or ask your local chamber of commerce for recommendations. The cost for an attorney to file a trademark can range from $1,000 to $1,500 plus filing fees. You can also complete a trademark registration yourself at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office at uspto.gov/trademarks. Filing fees apply.
Teri Williams is president and owner of OneUnited Bank.