Business names and trade marks are the same thing, right? Wrong

A BUSINESS NAME DOES NOT CONFER OWNERSHIP

Having a business name is a requirement so that people can ascertain the owners of a business they are dealing with. The register of business names is now maintained by ASIC.

Registration of a business name is required before carrying on a business or trade within Australia. Exceptions to registration include:

  • those operating as sole traders with their operating name being identical as their first name and surname (tip – if it has ‘& Co’, “& Partners” or ‘& Associates’ it must be registered);
  • partnerships where the operating name is the same as all of the partners’ names;
  • registered Australian companies whose operating name is the same as the company’s name (ie, with the “Pty Ltd” added).

While a business name is often used as a brand or trademark, having business name registration does not give ownership of that name. Only a trade mark under the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) can provide that kind of protection.

Don’t rely on a business name registration thinking that it gives you any protection – it doesn’t give you any protection at all.

If you register a business, company or domain name, you do not automatically have the right to use that name as a trade mark. The same word(s) may be able to be registered by different people as a business name in other states and territories.

A REGISTERED TRADEMARK IS NECESSARY TO OWN A NAME

If you have a registered trade mark, you do have exclusive use of the trade mark throughout Australia (and other jurisdictions if you obtain registration there also) and you can take legal action for infringement of your trade mark if another person or entity uses it for goods or services like those covered by your trade mark registration.

A trademark can be a word or words, a phrase, a logo or a combination thereof (and even scents, sounds and colours!) which identify and distinguish a business’s goods or services from those of others. You can also trade mark your domain name if it fits within the requirements of the legislation.

There is no legal requirement to use the TM or ® symbols however, the TM symbol indicates that you have a pending application for the brand or that you are claiming some rights in the name without trademark registration whereas the ® symbol indicates that the trademark is registered.

After establishing or growing a business, the last thing you would want to do is receive a ‘cease and desist’ letter from the lawyers of a competitor asking you to cease using their client’s trade mark and to account to them for profits you have made, so don’t rely on a business name registration thinking that it gives you any protection, as it does not!

If you or your clients that are trading without a registered business name or under a brand without trademark protection, then they should be referred for advice by an expert in the area.

Similarly, if you have a trademark and become aware of someone infringing on your trademark, such as by using a very similar name or logo or indicating they have some association with your business or products when they do not, you should get advice from a lawyer on sending an appropriately worded letter asking them to cease using it,

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to intellectual property licensing or infringement or any commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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