How to Look Up an LLC in California? (Most Effective Method)

Jon Morgan
Published by Jon Morgan | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: April 25, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Lou Viveros, Growth & Transition Advisor
Methodology
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People want to look up California limited liability companies because they want to establish their own company and need a legal business name.

With over a decade of practice as a business consultant in California and comprehensive research on the topic, I offer an in-depth guide based on relevant state laws and my firsthand experience.

I consulted our team of legal advisors and attorneys to address your concern and offer you some basic search tips on how to look up a limited liability company in California.

Quick Summary

  • To look up an LLC in California, you may visit the Secretary of State's website, obtain information from the County Clerk, or use search engines.
  • You can search for a California LLC using the entity name, number, or particular business type.
  • According to the IRS tax statistics, in 2019, there was a notable shift in business formations, with LLCs representing 71.5% of all U.S. partnership filings, highlighting the growing preference for LLC structures.
  • In my opinion, thorough research and understanding of California's LLC search system, as well as its tax requirements, are essential for ensuring legal compliance and successful business strategy formulation.


How To Look Up an LLC in California

Two team mates looking up an LLC in California

To look up an LLC in California, use the State Secretary Business Search tool.

When I needed to look up an LLC in California for the first time, I quickly learned that the State Secretary Business Search tool was my best bet. I came across several websites claiming to offer free LLC name searches, but after trying a few, I realized they often lacked accuracy or detailed reports.

Moreover, understanding the financial obligations in California is essential, as it's mandatory for each LLC to remit a baseline annual franchise tax of $800, regardless of its income level or profitability, as noted in the State of California Franchise Tax Board [1].

Here are ways to look up a California LLC:

1. State Secretary Business Search Tool

The Secretary of State provides a California business entity search tool that can also be used to check the status of a new filing.

The system will return all information associated with your request, including filing history, entity type, entity number, name, current status, etc. It applies to limited-liability partnerships as well.

"To ensure comprehensive visibility of potential similarities, it is advisable to input only the core segment of your intended California LLC name into the search bar."

- Delina Yasmeh, J.D./Tax LL.M, Distinguished Expert in Mergers & Acquisitions

You don't have to be extremely specific with the correct search criteria. As long as it starts with the same word or phrase, you'll get good search results.

The information you can obtain includes:

  • Current name and previous names, if any
  • Legal Business status (suspended or active entities)
  • Date of formation & registration in California
  • County location
  • Current California registered agent and address
  • Number of members or managers
  • The LLC Articles of Organization document is hyperlinked to view in pdf format.

a. Name Search

Here's how to use the California Secretary of State Business search tool to perform an LLC search by name:

  • Step 1: Go to the California Secretary of State's business search page.
  • Step 2: Select the "Search by Entity Name" option.
  • Step 3: Enter the name of the LLC you are searching for. You don't need to include designators like "LLC" at the end of the name.
  • Step 4: Review the search results. The results will display a list of entities that match or closely match the name you entered, along with their entity number, registration date, and status.

b. Entity Number

You can also do an LLC search by looking up the entity number:

  • Step 1: If you know the exact entity number of the LLC, select the "Search by Entity Number" option on the search page.
  • Step 2: Enter the entity number. This is a unique identifier assigned by the Secretary of State to each registered business.
  • Step 3: The search will directly take you to the detailed information page for the LLC associated with that entity number.

2. Call the State

Last year, when I hit a roadblock finding specific details online about an LLC, I decided to call the California Secretary of State's office directly. The staff was incredibly helpful, walking me through the process to obtain the detailed records I needed.

The year 2019 saw a total of 3.8 million partnerships across the U.S., reflecting a decrease of 4.7% from the previous year. Notably, as per IRS tax statistics, LLCs constituted 71.5% of all these partnership filings, highlighting the substantial presence and importance of LLC structures within the business landscape [2].

The phone number is (916) 657-5448, and the office hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

3. Send an Email

For inquiries that are not urgent, you can send a message to the Secretary of State's office. You have to use a contact form on the website.

Include as much information as you have about the LLC, such as its name or entity number, and specify what information you are seeking. This method is useful for detailed requests or when you need official documentation.

I used this method to obtain official documentation for an LLC that wasn't urgent.

4. Other Business Entity Search Alternatives

When doing LLC research in California for my clients, I found there are a few additional ways to perform an LLC search.

Obtain LLC Paperwork and Documents

Many documents for California LLC establishments are public records. That means that you should be able to obtain information and copies of the documents through your local county recorder's office if you have a California LLC entity name.

In California's case, that will be the State's Sacramento office, where you need to fill out the Business Entities Records—Order Form. You can either print it out and hand it in person or send it online.

This will allow you to access your limited liability information, which you can view online.

The records will also give you the creation and dissolution dates of an entity, as well as any name changes or information if it is no longer registered with the state.

Keep in mind that some LLCs may have been dissolved, and you might not be able to access the information.

Use the Search Engines

Search engines are a great way to look up for an LLC. You can enter the desired name or other search criteria into the providers you prefer and see what results are returned.

If you have trouble finding desired search results, use more general search terms, so it's broad enough for desired content to appear in the SERP (search engine results page).

Online Legal Databases

Websites like LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law offer comprehensive access to a wide range of legal and business documents, including lawsuits, liens, and detailed company profiles.

Access to these databases typically requires a subscription, but they provide invaluable information for in-depth legal research or business analysis.

Professional Networking Sites

LinkedIn and other professional networking sites can be valuable resources for finding information about businesses, including key personnel, company size, and industry activities. Many businesses maintain active profiles on these platforms to showcase their services and achievements.

Social Media Platforms

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube have become indispensable tools for gaining insights into a company's operations, brand image, and customer engagement strategies.

Through these platforms, businesses share updates, engage with their audience, and promote their products or services, offering a window into their marketing strategies, customer service practices, and community involvement.

How to Check If A Business Name Is Trademarked in California?

A man looking up an LLC in a laptop

Checking if a business name is trademarked involves both federal and state-level searches. Here’s how you can conduct these searches.

Federal Trademark Check (Through the USPTO)

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the federal agency responsible for granting U.S. patents and registering trademarks [3].

To check if a business name is federally trademarked:

  1. Visit the USPTO's Official Website: Start by going to the USPTO's online system, known as the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
  2. Use TESS to Search for Trademarks: TESS allows you to search the USPTO's database of registered trademarks and prior pending applications to find marks that could prevent registration due to a likelihood of confusion.
  3. Conduct a Basic Word Mark Search: Enter the business name you're interested in to see if there are any direct matches or similar names that have been registered or applied for.
  4. Review the Results: Pay attention to the results that are similar in sound, appearance, or meaning to the name you're considering, as these could be grounds for a trademark conflict.

State Trademark Check (SOT Website)

Each state has its own process for registering trademarks that are used within that state. To check if a business name is trademarked at the state level:

  1. Visit the State's Secretary of State (SOT) Website: Find the official website for the Secretary of State (SOT) of the state where you plan to operate your business.
  2. Look for the Business or Trademark Search Section: Most Secretary of State websites have a business or trademark search function that allows you to search for registered business names and trademarks within the state.
  3. Conduct a Search for the Business Name: Use the search tool to look for the business name you're interested in. Make sure to check for variations or similar names that might be registered.
  4. Analyze the Search Results: Just like with the federal search, review the results for any names that could conflict with the one you want to use based on similarity in sound, appearance, or meaning.

Here's why you should look up LLCs in California:

  • Avoid Legal Conflicts: Identifies existing trademarks that could lead to legal disputes, helping you avoid costly litigation over trademark infringement.
  • Ensure Brand Uniqueness: Ensures that your brand or business name is unique, reducing the risk of confusion with other businesses in the market.
  • Protect Brand Identity: Helps in establishing and protecting your brand identity by ensuring that your chosen name is not already in use.
  • Facilitate Registration Process: Increases the likelihood of successfully registering your trademark by preemptively identifying potential conflicts or issues.
  • Market Research: Provides valuable insights into your industry by revealing which names are popular and the types of goods or services associated with certain trademarks.
  • Avoid Consumer Confusion: Helps prevent confusion among consumers, ensuring that your brand stands out and is not mistakenly associated with another entity.
  • Strategic Planning: Aids in strategic planning by informing you of the competitive landscape, allowing for informed decision-making regarding brand positioning.
  • Compliance with Laws: Ensures compliance with federal and state trademark laws, avoiding legal penalties or restrictions on your business operations.
  • Global Brand Protection: If planning to expand internationally, a thorough search can identify potential conflicts in other countries' markets, facilitating global brand protection.

Related Articles:

FAQs

Does California Require LLC in the Name of the Company?

California requires an LLC in the name of the company to distinguish the entity from partnerships, limited partnerships, business trusts, holding companies, corporations, and associations.

Do I Need a Fictitious Business Name in California?

You do not need a fictitious business name in California, but if the LLC does not include the owner’s last name, a DBA statement must be submitted to the County Clerk’s office.

How Do I Find Out Who Owns an LLC in California?

To find out who owns an LLC in California, visit the Secretary of State's website and search for the LLC’s Articles of Organization. The owners of the California LLC are listed in the said document.

How Do I Find My California LLC Number?

You can find your California LLC number on the Secretary of State's website. You can also search for existing business entities in the database by name, location, or file number.

What Information Will I Find When I Look up an LLC in California?

When you look up an LLC in California, you will find information such as the LLC's name, status (active, suspended, dissolved, etc.), entity number, date of formation, registered agent, and address.


References:

  1. https://www.ftb.ca.gov/file/business/types/limited-liability-company/index.html
  2. https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1136.pdf#page=21
  3. https://www.uspto.gov/about-us/uspto-locations/silicon-valley-california

About The Author

Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Jon Morgan, MBA, LLM, has over ten years of experience growing startups and currently serves as CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Venture Smarter. Educated at UC Davis and Harvard, he offers deeply informed guidance. Beyond work, he enjoys spending time with family, his poodle Sophie, and learning Spanish.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Growth & Transition Advisor
LJ Viveros has 40 years of experience in founding and scaling businesses, including a significant sale to Logitech. He has led Market Solutions LLC since 1999, focusing on strategic transitions for global brands. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Communications, LJ is also a distinguished Matsushita Executive alumnus.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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