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What is the Difference between DBA and Trademark in US?

Difference between dba and trademark

What is the Difference between DBA and Trademark in US?

In the United States, businesses can operate under a name different from their legal name by filing a DBA (Doing Business As) or registering a trademark. While both DBAs and US trademark registration allow businesses to use a different name, they serve distinct purposes and offer varying levels of legal protection. The main difference between DBS (Doing Business As) and trademark is that a DBS filing offers limited legal protection within a single state, while a trademark registration grants you exclusive rights nationwide within a specific class of goods or services. This article explores the concept of DBA and trademark, its benefits, and their key differences.

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What is DBA?

In the United States, “DBA” means “Doing Business As.” It’s a legal term used when a business operates under a name different from its legal name or the name of its owners. Registering a DBA allows businesses to use a trade or fictitious name for branding and marketing purposes while maintaining legal recognition and compliance. This enables businesses to operate under a name that better reflects their products, services, or branding strategies without needing to change their legal entity name formally.

Benefits of having DBA

There are several reasons why a business might choose to operate under a DBA:

  • Branding: A DBA allows a business to use a market-relevant name that resonates with its target audience.
  • Multiple Businesses: An LLC or corporation operating under several names can file a separate DBA for each name. This can help with marketing and branding for different products or services.
  • Sole Proprietorships: A sole proprietorship can use a DBA to operate under a professional-sounding business name instead of the owner’s personal name.
  • Accessibility: A DBA can be registered in three simple steps. Simply choose the state, conduct a DBA name search to find one relevant to your business, and register the DBA with the state.
  • Lower cost: The DBA registration costs between $5 to $150, depending on the state.

What is a Trademark?

In the US context, a trademark is a federally registered symbol, phrase, design, or logo that identifies your specific brand and distinguishes it from competitors. Registering a trademark helps you to get exclusive rights to use that mark within a particular class of goods or services nationwide. This offers strong legal protection to prevent others from using confusingly similar marks, safeguarding your brand identity and consumer trust. It lets you to protect your intellectual property legally and prevents it from infringement.

Benefits of Having a Trademark

Registering a trademark offers several advantages to businesses:

  • Brand Protection: A trademark registration grants exclusive rights to use your mark within a specific class of goods or services. This restricts others from using a similar mark that could confuse consumers.
  • Consumer Trust: A registered trademark ® can signal to consumers that your products or services are high quality and that you are a reputable business.
  • Competitive Advantage: A trademark can create a barrier to entry for competitors who might try to imitate your brand.

Learn more: How to register your trademark in USA?

5 Key Differences Between DBA and Trademark

Below are the key differences between DBA and trademark, separated into 5 categories:

1. Scope

A DBA is registered at the state level and only offers protection within that state. For example, if you file a DBA in California to operate under the name “Golden State Bakery,” another business in Nevada could also operate under “Golden State Bakery” without violating your DBA.

A trademark, on the other hand, is registered with the USPTO and offers nationwide protection. This means that if you have a registered trademark for “Golden State Bakery,” no other business in the United States can use that name or a confusingly similar name for similar goods or services.

2. Exclusivity

Filing a DBA does not give you any exclusive right to the name you are using. Other businesses in the same state can use the same DBA name as long as they are not operating in a way that creates confusion among consumers.

A trademark registration grants you exclusive rights to use your trademark within a specific class of goods or services. This means that no other business can use a confusingly similar mark for the same or similar goods or services. For example, if you have a registered trademark for “Golden State Bakery” for bread and pastries, another bakery could not use the name “Golden State Cakes” However, a clothing store could potentially use the name “Golden State Clothing” without infringing on your trademark.

3. Protection

A DBA offers minimal legal protection. If another business starts using your DBA name, you may have some recourse if you can demonstrate that they are creating unfair competition. However, this can be difficult and expensive to prove.

Trademark registration provides strong legal protection. If someone exploits your trademark, you can take legal action on them to stop using your mark and recover damages. You can also file a lawsuit to prevent others from registering trademarks that are too.

4. Enforcement

Enforcing a DBA can be more complex compared to a trademark. Since a DBA doesn’t grant exclusive rights, proving another business intentionally misled consumers can be challenging.

Trademark enforcement, however, offers more ways to assert your rights. The USPTO provides mechanisms for filing opposition proceedings against confusingly similar trademarks before registration. Additionally, trademark owners can take legal action against infringing businesses through cease-and-desist letters, lawsuits, and even seeking injunctive relief to halt the infringement.

5. Cost and Complexity

Filing a DBA is a relatively cheap and simple process. Fees are typically low, depending on the state, and can be done by mail or online filing with the relevant state agency.

Trademark registration, on the other hand, is a more complex and expensive process. The USPTO filing fee starts at a higher price and can increase depending on the type of application and additional services needed. The process can also take several months to complete, and professional legal assistance is often recommended to navigate trademark search, application drafting, and potential USPTO communications.

Here, the table briefly summarises the difference between DBS and trademark:

Aspect Doing Business As (DBA) Trademark
Scope State-level protection; limited to one state Nationwide protection; covers the entire US
Exclusivity No exclusive rights; others can use the name Grants exclusive rights within specific classes
Protection Offers minimal legal protection Provides strong legal protection and recourse
Enforcement Enforcement can be complex Offers various enforcement mechanisms
Cost/Complexity Relatively cheap and simple process More complex and expensive; involves USPTO

Also read: Types of US trademark registration

Choosing Between DBA and Trademark

The decision between using a DBA or registering a trademark depends on your specific business needs. Here’s a breakdown to guide your decision-making:

Use a DBA if:

  • You are a sole proprietor or partnership operating under your personal name and want a professional business name.
  • You are an LLC or corporation with a registered legal name but desire a more market-friendly brand name.
  • You operate locally and have yet to make plans to expand nationally.

Consider Trademark Registration if:

  • You have a unique and valuable brand name you want to protect from unauthorised use.
  • You plan to expand your business nationally.
  • You anticipate significant brand recognition and potential infringement.

Can I Trademark a DBA?

Yes, if you’re using DBA as your brand name, identified the specific goods & services and fall under the specific trademark class, you can trademark a business name . Here are some factors the USPTO might consider when evaluating your trademark application based on prior DBA use:

  • Length and continuity of use: The longer you’ve used the DBA name in commerce, the stronger your case.
  • Geographic scope of use: If your DBA name is well-known within a particular region, it can strengthen your application for a regional trademark.
  • Marketing and advertising efforts: Evidence of promoting your business under the DBA name can demonstrate your intent to use it as a trademark.
  • Sales volume: Higher sales figures associated with the DBA name can indicate established brand recognition.


In conclusion, while DBAs and trademarks allow businesses to operate under a different name, they offer distinct advantages. DBAs are a simple and affordable way to operate under a different name within a single state but offer minimal legal protection. USA Trademark registration requires a more complex and expensive process but provides nationwide exclusive rights and strong legal protection for your brand identity. Choosing between a DBA and a trademark depends on your business needs, such as brand protection, geographic scope, and budget.

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