A corporation bureau is a state governmental agency responsible for the registration of businesses. In most cases, this responsibility does not extend to regulating the activities of the business. This type of agency should not be confused with private organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.
The exact task of a corporation bureau varies from state to state, but there are common themes. The most common core task is to maintain a register of businesses operating within a state. This allows the public to verify that a business has been legitimately set up and, under most state's registration requirements, find out who owns the business.
Another common task of a corporation bureau is to administer the Uniform Commercial Code. This is an interstate agreement that each state will follow certain common practices and principles in its laws on commercial transactions such as sales. It is designed to make it easier for a business based in one state to trade in other states without inadvertently breaching local laws.
Not all states use the corporation bureau name for their relevant agency. For example, Delaware has a division of corporations. Some states combine the relevant work with other tasks, such as in Maine where a single bureau oversees both corporation registrations and the electoral system administration.
There was once a federal Bureau of Corporations. This was an agency, based within the Department of Commerce and Labor, formed in 1903. It conducted investigations into several key national industries such as petroleum, tobacco, and steel. The bureau was replaced in 1915 with the Federal Trade Commission, which remains operative in the 21st century.
There are some business related organizations that use the name "bureau" but are not government agencies and thus do not count as a corporation bureau. By far the best known in the United States is the Better Business Bureau (BBB). This is a corporation made up of local franchises that gather information about how reliable and trustworthy different businesses are. The BBB gives each business a rating based on how many complaints received from the public about the business, and how well the business responds to and deals with the complaints. Unlike a state corporation bureau, the BBB only deals with businesses that request monitoring, and thus its records are not complete for all businesses.