Registering a business name

Once you’ve been through the process of Naming your Business, you’ll be ready to take the next step; registering your business name.

A business name is a name or title under which you trade. You have to register your business name in each state or territory you’ll be operating in if your business structure is:

  • Sole trader
  • A partnership
  • A trust
  • Not a company (i.e. incorporated)

However, registering a business name is not always necessary. You don’t have to register a business name if you’re doing business under your own (or your partner’s) first name and surname.

Important: Contrary to popular belief, registering your business name does NOT mean legal ownership. To get that, you have to trademark your business name.

Where to register your business name

You can register your business name nationally through the ASIC Connect Web Service located at www.asicconnect.asic.gov.au

The new national business names registration service which began on 28 May 2012 replaced the previous state and territory services, so that businesses only need to register their name with a single national register. Generally, existing registered business names in the states and territories have now been automatically transferred to the new register.

Registering a business name does not give you ownership

It comes as a surprise to many people that registration of a business, company or domain name doesn’t mean you legally own it.

Registering your name as a trademark gives you ownership. A trademarked business name means you and only you can use that name in Australia in your line of business.

For example, if your trademarked name is Totally Awesome and you’re in the wedding flower business, only you can use that name in your industry. But a whale-watching business could be called Totally Awesome, because whale watching has nothing to do with wedding bouquets.

A trademarked business name has greater legal clout than a registered business name. So, if you’re the registered trademark owner of a name, you can sue a business owner for infringing your trademark if they use the same name as yours on goods or services similar to yours.

How to register your business name as a trademark

You can register your business name as a trademark with IP Australia.

The first step is to search the trademarks database and other goods and services to make sure you won’t be infringing upon any existing trademarked names. You can

IP Australia has a professional search service called the Business Names Applicant Search Service (BASS). For around $40, they’ll search the database and get back to you if there’s already a registered trademark that’s identical or very similar to your proposed business name. Call 1300 651 010 to apply for a search.

Confused about trademarking?

If you get tangled up don’t worry. IP Australia’s TM Headstart service can assess your trademark’s suitability for registration. You’ll be able to speak to one of their people who can help you sort out any tricky bits.

Will my trademark be accepted for registration?

Your trademark must distinguish your goods or services from others in the marketplace. This means it’s very difficult to register trademarks that:

  • Denote the kind, quality, intended purpose or value of the goods or services
  • Are common surnames or geographical names
  • Conflict with an earlier trade mark, or would mislead the public about the nature of the goods or services
  • Are protected by law and cannot be registered as trademarks. Some are prohibited as trademarks under the Trade Marks Act 1995 (see IP Legislation), for instance, ‘Olympic Champion’.

It’s a good idea to brainstorm several business names and draw up a list of favourites. That way if your first choices aren’t available, your business start-up won’t be delayed by going back to square one!

For more information, read our articles on on Protecting your Idea and Setting up a Business.