How To Know If A Business Name Is Taken

Written by Nathan Watt

Naming your business can be tricky. It certainly consumes a lot of mental energy for some people when starting a business and many a consultant has made a fortune coming up with names and brands for businesses. Then even when you’ve got something you think is great, how are you to know if a business is taken?

Making things more complicated is that a business name and an entity name are different things, and both can be guzzumped by a trademark. And just to keep it all the more confusing -   all three require separate registrations.

But first things first;

How to come up with a business name

Honestly I don’t think there is any magic formula to it and people obsesses over it way too much (I know I’m guilty of it). At the end of the day it needs to represent who you are as a business, what you stand for and what you do.  Weird spellings of things are annoying. Obscure references are, well obscure and confusing – what does this business do again?

Anyway, ways you can come up with a business name;

  • Name it after the founders/partners (i.e Watson & Watt)
  • Play on words (make cents accounting)
  • Make it sound edgy (Consolid8)
  • Make it sound trustworthy (Steadfast)
  • Make up words (facebook, Google, Netflix)
  • Use a random name generator 

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How to know if the name is taken

So you’ve finally got something you’re happy with, but how do you know if someone else is using it?

The first thing to know that in Australia having a name doesn’t give you exclusive use to it. Weird right?  But there are different ways to have a name;

  • Business Name
  • Company/Trust Name
  • Trademark
  • Domain name

So where do you start?  I recommend you;

If you searched that and it all seems clear, then go for it. But here’s the rub. 

Unless the entity name (an individual, company/trust) will be trading under their exact name (e.g Watson & Watt Pty Ltd), then you need to register a business name (Watson & Watt).

This means unless you’re going to put the full legal name on everything you need a business name. If you’ve got a company this means you have to put the Pty Ltd wherever you use your name. I don’t know about you but that seems untidy. And if you’re going into a franchise that is practically impossible.

Business names are easy and cheap to get, so there’s no excuse not to have one.

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Trademarks are next level, those bad boys will protect the Mark in the “classes” that you have selected. 

And that’s where things get interesting.  

You might think that having a trademark gives you exclusive use to that name. Wrong.  You protect a trademark in certain “classes” (categories) that your business operates in. 

For example, we’re accountants, tax agents and business consultants, so we’ve got a trademark in the classes that contain those things.  This prevents another business using the name Watson & Watt from providing those same services.

But it does not stop someone from starting a lawn care business called Watson & Watt. And there is nothing we can do about that, because we don’t operate in that industry.

Technically you can register your own trademark, but I really advise against it.  It’s a fairly complicated process, particularly if you want worldwide protection and with the name of your business on the line it’s worth spending a few dollars getting a specialist lawyer to do it for you.

How to register the name of a business

So to register a name you need to go through a few steps;

  • Decide which legal structure is right for you. Unless you’re a sole trader, you’ll need to come up with a name for this legal structure.  Get us or a lawyer to set this up for you. This can be done within 24 hours including registrations for GST, PAYGW, ABN, & TFN
  • Register a domain name from the squillions of domain registrants & hosting providers.
  • Register a business name with ASIC here 
  • Talk to a lawyer with an IP specialty to help with the trademark. If you don’t know any we do -  so give us a yell.

So that’s how to know if a name is taken, how to register one and make sense of the multi-layered naming protocols we have in Australia. Need help with any of this? Contact us here

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