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How to Get a DBA in Wisconsin

A large blue map of Wisconsin positioned behind a stack of white business documents.


Q: I have an LLC for my Wisconsin business, how do I go about creating a DBA for my side business?

Thank you to a client from Wisconsin for this great question! Wisconsin doesn’t require DBAs to be registered. However, even though it isn’t required, it’s definitely a good idea to register your DBA, which Wisconsin calls a trade name. Registering your DBA will link your LLC to your DBA, giving you liability protection for your side business. Your trade name will allow your LLC to use more than one business name without having to form multiple entities. We’ll show you how.

What is a Wisconsin Trade Name?

Trade names are any name you do business under other than your legal business name. For instance, if you have an LLC for your taco stand, and your taco stand does so well that you plan to double your food truck empire. You buy a second truck and have a side business of selling funnel cakes. However, you don’t want to go through the hassle and expense of registering a new LLC with the state. This is where a Wisconsin trade name comes in handy. You can keep your main business, and branch off your funnel cake business with a trade name. Your LLC will protect both businesses, but your trade name will allow you to have two brands under your belt.

Am I required to register a trade name in Wisconsin?

No. Wisconsin statutes do not require the registration of trade names or trademarks. This means that Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions has only a partial listing of names in use by businesses operating in Wisconsin.

Why register a trade name in Wisconsin?

Registering a trade name not only lets Wisconsin know that your LLC has one or more trade names attached to it, it also informs your customers, and makes your business more legit in the eyes of both.

How to Register a Trade Name in Wisconsin

Most states require your business to register the name before you use it. However, Wisconsin requires no such registration. In fact, Wisconsin defines a trade name in the same way it classifies a trademark. Basically, your business can use a trade name or mark without registering it with the proper authorities.

In Wisconsin, a trade name can’t contain any of the following:

  • Business entity suffixes like LLC or Inc.
  • The word insurance unless you’re in the insurance industry.
  • Any words that imply your business is organized for illegal reasons.
  • The words architecture, engineering, or designing without the proper governmental approval.

Note: Before you start the registration process, your LLC must be in good standing with the state.

Step One
Search Wisconsin’s business name records to make sure your trade name doesn’t coincide with any other registered entity names.

Step Two
Create an online account with Wisconsin’s UCC and Trademark filing system.

Step Three
Fill out the online application by selecting the “Register a Trade Name or Trademark” option. Be sure to include the following information:

  • Legal name of your business, i.e. Joe’s Plumbing, LLC.
  • Business mailing address
  • EIN
  • Trade name to be registered.
  • List the 2-digit classification of goods and services you will file your trade name under.
  • Enter the date your first used, or plan to use the trade name. This can’t be more than 30 days in the future.
  • Pay the $15 filing fee.
  • Once complete, print the application, get it notarized, and then scan and upload the application as a pdf file to your online account.

If you want more than one trade name, each one must be accompanied by a separate application and fee. Registered trade names are valid for 10 years. You renew your trade name six months before your it expires.

Note: Online or in-person filings are the only way to register a trade name. Mailed filings are not accepted.

In-person filings:
Trademark Records Section
WI Dept of Financial Institutions
4822 Madison Yards Way, North Tower
Madison WI 53705

Will I own the trade name?

Registering a trade name in Wisconsin does not give ownership, but it does give the name, and your usage of it, a public record.

How do I own my trade name?

Rights and ownership in Wisconsin of a trade name are gained through usage, not through the registration. If you’re really dead set on having exclusive rights to your trade name, it’s probably a good idea to consult an attorney who specializes in trademarks and trade names.

How do I know if someone else is using my trade name?

This is where things get tricky. Since Wisconsin is the Wild West for trade names, anyone can use a name other than their legal business name. And this means the records aren’t the best, because some business owners might not register their trade name. You’ll want to start off by searching the DFI database.

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