DBA: What is a DBA and how should you use it?
March 13, 2015
Should You Pay for DBA Registration?
In this article, I am going to give you the opportunity to save $99.00.†
A great reason not to use services like “LegalZoom” is that they charge you (often a relatively large amount of money) for stupid things. One example is LegalZoom’s “DBA Registration” service. I’m picking on LegalZoom because they go so far as to say, “If you’re a sole proprietorship, you need a DBA to register your business name.” [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”] That is misleading, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Nevertheless, LegalZoom is happy to collect your $99.00 + State filing fees (as little as $20.00, in Tennessee*).
LegalZoom’s process is simple. You fill out a form. Legal Zoom will then “complete, file and publish (if required) your DBA application”… Wait a minute! “If required”?! Didn’t they just say “you need a DBA to register your business name“? Maybe they meant if you want to register your business name, you do so by using a “DBA.” That seems misleading, because, upon first reading, it sounds like they’re telling you that you need a “DBA” if you want to operate your business as a sole proprietorship. LegalZoom will, of course, “mail the approved DBA application to you.” So, in summary, you are paying LegalZoom $99.00 to use their “DBA Application” form and to mail you your DBA application upon approval.
Now, let me save you $99.00. You can do this yourself; in my opinion, this is especially easy if you live in Tennessee. The process is more-or-less the same in most jurisdictions, as far as I know.* Here’s a simple 5-step process for filing your own “DBA Application” in Tennessee:
- Visit the Name Availability Search page on the website for the Office of the Secretary of State in your state;
- Perform a search on the name you want to use, and determine whether or not it is currently in use;
- If it is in use, choose another name, or, if it is not in use, you may use that name on the form you’re about to complete;
- Download Form SS-4264 from the website for the Office of the Secretary of State;
- Follow the provided instructions to fill out the form, and mail the form to the address provided on the form, along with the fee indicated on the form.
It’s that easy! If you’re going to be filling out a form on LegalZoom, you might as well just fill out the form LegalZoom would be filling out for you, and mail it in along with the state filing fee, which you would have to pay anyway. Save yourself the $99.00 by cutting out the middle man.
If you are purchasing a larger package of business legal services, it makes sense for your business attorney to include “DBA Application” in that package for which you are paying. As a stand-alone service, however, it makes little sense to pay anyone else to complete or file your “DBA Application.”
But What Is a “DBA,” really? Do I really need to register my DBA?
There is no legal requirement that you register your “DBA.” Also, it’s not really called a “DBA”! “DBA” stands for “Doing Business As” and is also written “d/b/a.” Any name which follows d/b/a is your trade name. So, proper usage of this trade name might be something like: “Jack Porter d/b/a The Stowaway,” if your name is Jack Porter and you are the sole proprietor of a bar called The Stowaway.
A Trade Name is a name that has the status of a trademark. A trademark is a symbol, word, or words legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product. “A trademark is any word, name, symbol, device or combination thereof used by a person to identify goods made or sold and to distinguish them from the goods made or sold by another person. In general, you use a trademark to identify a product or goods that are sold.”  Service marks are just like trademarks, but identify services, rather than goods.
A trademark, like a copyright, is established or created by use. So, it is not necessarily true that you need to register a trademark or trade name (i.e., a “DBA”) in order to use it or in order to create it. It is certainly not true that you need to register a trade name in order to create a sole proprietorship. If Jack Porter wants to call his bar The Stowaway, all he has to do is operate a bar and call it The Stowaway. As long as no one else in his market was already operating a bar called The Stowaway, he is on firm legal footing.
So, what value is there in registration, you might ask? Registering a trade name–which, by the way, requires you to demonstrate you are using the trade name–has certain benefits; there are even different kinds of registration. One kind is registration at the state level. Another is federal trademark registration, which is entirely different.
“Owning a federal trademark registration on the Principal Register provides several advantages, including:
- Public notice of your claim of ownership of the mark;
- A legal presumption of your ownership of the mark and your exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration;
- The ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court;
- The use of the U.S. registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries;
- The ability to record the U.S. registration with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods;
- The right to use the federal registration symbol ®; and
- Listing in the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s online databases.” 
For more information about trademark registration in Tennessee,* click here. Of course, if you have questions about using a trade name, you are always free to contact Executive Legal Professionals. One of our friendly, helpful attorneys would be happy to answer any questions you might have, or suggest legal services which may enhance the protection of your brand or otherwise benefit your business.
† Assuming you would otherwise use LegalZoom to register your trade name
* Regulations and fees vary from state to state. If you are not in Tennessee, please check with your state’s Office of the Secretary of State or ask a business lawyer about what regulations and fees apply in your state.
Citations File for a DBA or ‘Doing Business As’ (2007, September 14). Retrieved March 13, 2015, from http://www.legalzoom.com/legal-dba/dba-doing-business-as-overview.html  Hargett, T. (2009, June 22). Tennessee Department of State: Business Services. Retrieved March 13, 2015, from http://www.tn.gov/sos/bus_svc/trademarksFAQ.htm  Trademark FAQs. (2015, March 10). Retrieved March 13, 2015, from http://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/trademark-faqs
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