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When starting a business, it is not always clear whether you need to register your business name. A business name is a name under which a person identifies their business. Once you set up your business as a company, partnership or sole trader, you must register a business name if you identify your business with a name other than the business’ legal name. Notably, operating a business under an unregistered business name is an offence. 

This article discusses various scenarios where a business name is and is not required, and the differences between a business name and a brand name. 

Legal Name vs Business Name vs Brand Name

A legal name is a name that appears on all legal papers and official documentation, such as leases, contracts and registrations. 

A business name is a name that you use to identify your business.

A brand name is a name you use to identify your products or services.

Operating as a Sole Trader or Partnership 

If you operate your business as a sole trader or partnership, you may be trading under your own name(s). In this case, you do not need to register a business name. However, if you are a sole trader or partnership trading under a different name, you need to register a business name.

The following scenarios are helpful to identify where you do not need to register a business name. 

Scenario 1: Sarah Stork, who runs a pet care business named ‘Sarah Stork’.

Scenario 2: Karl Peters and Amanda Saz run a consulting business together under a partnership structure. Their partnership’s legal name is ‘Karl Peters and Amanda Saz,’ and they operate under their legal name. 

Likewise, the following scenarios illustrate where you do need to register a business name. 

Scenario 1: Tyrone Lancaster runs a bottle shop called ‘Lancaster Liquors.’ Here, Tyrone will need to register the business name, ‘Lancaster Liquors’.

Scenario 2: Karl Peters and Amanda Saz run a consulting business together under a partnership structure. Their partnership’s legal name is Karl Peters and Amanda Saz. Likewise, they operate their business under ‘Karl Peter and Co.’

Operating as a Company 

If you operate a company and are trading under the company’s name, you do not need to register your company name as a business name. However, if your company operates under a different name, you will need to register that different name as a business name. 

Additionally, it is best to check whether your desired business name is available before registering a company name. Luckily, it is simple to search for available business names online using ASIC’s search tool

For example, Andrew Jiang is running his business through a company called ‘Delta Australia Pty Ltd.’ He refers to his business as ‘Delta Australia’ on his company invoices, website, delivery vehicles and staff uniforms. Therefore, Andrew must register the business name ‘Delta Australia’ since he operates his business under this name. Notably, this name differs from his company name, ‘Delta Australia Pty Ltd.’

Protecting Your Business Name

A business name does not allow you to stop other people from using that name or similar names in the course of trade. This protection requires registering a trade mark. Although this is not a legal requirement for a business, it can be particularly helpful to have additional protection. For example, a registered trade mark prevents future headaches or forced rebrands should another party successfully register a trade mark for the same name in a similar industry.

You will also need to continually renew your business name to maintain your business name registration. If you do not pay the required renewal fee and allow your business name registration to expire, your business name will be cancelled. Consequently, it will become available for anyone to re-register the same name six months after the cancellation date. 

A business name is often a business’ most valuable asset. Hence, taking the right steps to ensure your business name has protection is crucial. It is best to speak to a qualified professional, such as a trade marks lawyer or trade marks attorney about protecting your business name.

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Key Takeaways

A business name is the name under which a person identifies their business. It is a legal requirement to register a business name if you are running your business under a different name to your entity’s legal name. Additionally, registering for a trade mark is different to registering your business name. Indeed, a trade mark is the best way to protect your business name. Likewise, a trade mark ensures you have exclusive rights to that name. 

If you need help with registering your business name, our experienced business lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 1300 544 755 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a legal name and a business name?

A legal name is a name that appears on all legal papers and official documentation, such as leases, contracts and registrations. Conversely, a business name is a name that you use to identify your business.

What does it mean to register a business name?

If you trade under a name that is not your legal name, you must register this business name through ASIC. However, this process is different from registering a trade mark over your business name. The latter grants you exclusive rights to use your registered trade mark as you wish.

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