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Protecting Your Name – legal names, business names, trademarks and domain names

By Reshma Farrer

 

One of the most valuable assets for businesses is their name. It is how customers know who you are and whether they can trust you. However, often businesses have more than just one name – they could have their legal name, business name, trademark or domain name – and each of these serves a different function.

What is a legal name?Protecting your name – legal names, business names, trade marks and domain names

A legal name is the official name for an entity and appears on all the official documents. You do not have to register for a legal name separately. For example, for a company, its legal name will be the company name you registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (“ASIC”).

When contracting with other businesses, it is important to use the entity’s legal name (rather than a business name). Otherwise, you may not be able to enforce your agreement with them.

What is a business name?

A business may choose to trade using their legal name, in which case they do not need to register a separate name. However, if you want to trade your business using a different name to your legal name, you will need to register a “business name” with ASIC using the Business Registration Service.

A business name is different from a “trading name”. A trading name refers to an unregistered name that businesses could use before the introduction of the National Business Names Register in 2012. From 31 October 2018, trading names have ceased to be displayed on the Australian Business Register and businesses cannot use them anymore.

What is a domain name?

A domain name gives you the right to a particular web URL. In Australia, the administrator and self-regulatory policy body for the “.au” domain space is .au Domain Administration Limited (“auDA”). There are a number of organisations that are accredited as “registrars” by auDA to provide services to people who want to register a new domain name or need other services connected with their domain name. You can find a list of them here.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is used to identify your goods or services. Typically, trademarks are either logos or words but they could also be a letter, phrase, shape, aspect of packaging etc.

Trademarks may be registered with IP Australia or unregistered. If you do not register your trademark, you may have some protection over your mark under common law but it will probably be more difficult for you to take action against people who infringe your trademark. If you register your trademark with IP Australia you will obtain exclusive rights to that mark in relation to the classes of goods or services that you apply for under the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth).

Business names and domain names are not the same as a trademark – they do not give you the exclusive right to use that name, only a trademark can do that.

What you need to do

  • If you are trading using a different name to your legal name, you should check that your business has correctly registered a business name and if not, you should evaluate if you should register the business name.
  • If you want to register a new domain name, you will need to get in touch with one of the auDA accredited registrars.
  • If you are using a word or logo to distinguish your goods or services from competitors (including using your business name), you should explore whether you need to register this word or logo as a trademark.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please contact Reshma Farrer or Peter North from our Corporate/Business Department on (03) 9629 9629.