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What to call a business can be a knotty problem. Here we look at the different kinds of business names and how they work.

The various types of names associated with operating a business can be confusing. 

A business may use trade marks, business names, company names and domain names, and these various names may be the same or may differ.

A trade mark could be a business name but not a company name, while a domain name could infringe another business’ trade mark. 

So what’s the difference between the names and what are the main issues you need to be aware of?

Trade marks

A trade mark is a sign, usually a word or picture (although sounds, scents and shapes are also types of trade marks), used to distinguish a business’ goods or services.  While a business can establish rights in a trade mark simply through using it, the best protection is obtained by registering the trade mark with IP Australia.  Trade mark registration provides a business with a statutory monopoly in the trade mark in respect of its goods or services, and allows the business to take action against other traders who adopt confusingly similar trade marks.  

Many businesses prefer to have their trade mark match their company name or business name, and their domain name, to provide a single reference for consumers.  Apple is a good example of this.  Some businesses provide a wide range of goods and services under different trade marks, so the trade marks may be unrelated to the businesses’ company names, business names or even domain names. 

Business names

A business name is a name under which a person or company conducts a business.  A business name will not necessarily match a company name, but will often match a trade mark, as many businesses provide goods or services under the same name as their business.

It is necessary to register your business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, unless it matches your personal name, you and your business partners’ names or your company name.

Registering a business name does not provide enforceable rights in that name or provide any defences against trade mark complaints from other traders.  It is necessary to register the name as a trade mark with IP Australia to obtain enforceable rights and associated defences. 

Company names

A company name is the legal name of a company.  A company name will often be the same as a business name, but is not necessarily the same.  There is no requirement that a company name match a business name or trade mark.     

Domain names

A domain name is an online address used to locate websites, such as griffithhack.com.  A domain name often matches a trade mark, as businesses wish to associate their website address with their trade marks to make it easy for consumers to locate the website and the goods and services offered.  Some domain names may consist of descriptive or common words, as traders sometimes wish to attract consumers by using common words that consumers will search for. 

Use of business names, company names and domain names can often be use of the words comprising the names “as a trade mark”.   It is therefore important to ensure that various names you use do not feature words which may be other businesses’ trade marks. 

To ensure you do not run into problems with trade marks, business names, company names or domain names, it is important to conduct searches of the Trade Marks Register and the marketplace before committing to use any particular names.  Obtaining trade mark registration further strengthens your position and rights. 

If you would like to discuss any issues raised above, please contact us.  

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