When you operate a business in a name other than your own, you need to register your "doing business as" (DBA) name. In Texas, a DBA is also referred to as an "assumed name". The required paperwork is easy to complete in person in Houston or online through the Harris County Clerk's Office.
Visit the website of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to check whether the name you choose is already in use or is similar to another name. Unless the name is trademark-protected, there's no law that says two or more businesses can't use the same DBA, but you likely will want to choose something unique to your business. Search the web-based trademark database managed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to determine whether the name you want is trademarked.
Obtain information about a DBA in Houston through the Harris County assumed name search page on the Harris County Clerk's website.
Obtain a copy of Form 503 through the Texas Department of State website or a local municipal clerk. In Houston, visit the website of the Harris County Clerk's Office or go to the office in person at the Harris County Civil Courthouse, 201 Caroline Street. Complete the form and remit with the $25 fee. Your DBA registration is good for 10 years; after ten years, you have to renew if you want to continue using the name.
If you're a sole proprietor, you might want to use a DBA for marketing purposes. It's easier to reach potential customers with a name that reflects the nature of your business. For example, you may use your given name — Susan A. Smith, for example — as the legal name of your business but choose a DBA name such as "Susan's Custom Tailoring".
A corporation or limited liability company (LLC) can use a DBA if it wants to use a different business name than the one under which it was initially incorporated. You can use a DBA without changing the original business structure.
Suppose you own an LLC called "Bob's Auto Mechanics", and you want to start offering auto detailing services. You can keep the name Bob's Auto Mechanics, which customers already know, and add a name such as "Bob's Auto Detailing" as a DBA under the umbrella of your existing business structure.
As another example, suppose you own a fine-dining restaurant, "Antonio's", that serves Italian cuisine, and you want to open a take-out pizza restaurant. Creating a DBA for "Tony's Pizza" lets you maintain your current business structure while marketing to a new and possibly separate clientele.
There are no special legal protections for a DBA. Be aware of the limitations, including the following:
- No trademark protection: A DBA is not the same as a trademark.
- Lack of naming rights: It doesn't matter if you've used a DBA for years. If you're not registered as a legal business entity with the DBA assigned to your business, anyone else can take it, including a competitor.
- Lack of legal protection: A DBA is a name only. Unless you operate as an LLC or other corporate structure, there is no separation between your personal and business assets. You won't get the tax benefits afforded to LLCs and corporations.
- No business bank account: You cannot get a separate business bank account for a DBA or manage the financial aspect of your business separately.