When you start a new business, naturally one of the first things you consider is a name for your company. After you decide on a name, you’ll want to see if it’s available for you to use. In most cases, it’s legal for you to use the same name as another company not located in your state, but illegal to use the same name as another business registered in your state. An exception to this rule applies to businesses that have registered a nationwide trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. While name availability is generally only restricted by state boundaries, you’ll perform two searches -- one within the state you wish to form the business and one with the USPTO.

Visit the USPTO.gov website. Click the “Trademarks” tab and select the “Trademark Search” option.

Choose the basic search option. This is the simplest search method, but your results show all registered trademarks that bear the same or similar name of the company you enter. In some cases, you can use a name that is the same as a company registered with the USPTO as long as your business provides a different product or service; check with an attorney to confirm it is available for your use before proceeding.

Visit the Office of the Secretary of State or Corporations Division website for the state where you plan to form your business.

Search for a name search or name availability link. Type “Name Availability” in the main website’s main search field. If the site doesn’t have a search field, look in the “Business Registration” or “Form a Business” menu. Name availability searches are a routine part of business registrations, so the registration area is a good place to check for the link.

Enter the name of the business for which you want to check availability. Your search results show if the business name is already taken. Some states allow businesses with the same name, yet different entity types, such as an LLC or corporation to exist. Other states don’t permit businesses with the same or even similar name to exist regardless of the entity designation, so check with your state for details before you register your company.