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Registration of an Australian business name
  1. What is a key difference between merely registering a business name and incorporating a company?
  2. What are some common misconceptions about the registration of a business name?
  3. How do I tell if my actual or proposed business name has already been registered by someone else?
  4. How do I tell if my proposed or actual business name is available to be registered?
  5. How do I register a business name?
  6. Should I consider registering my business name (e.g. 'Smiths' Pty Ltd) as a domain name (e.g. 'Smiths.com.au')?
  7. If I have just 'registered my business name as a company' (or, in other words, 'incorporated my existing business name', or 'added 'Pty Ltd' to the end of my existing registered business name)*, what should I 'do', if anything, with the existing registered business name?

1. What is a key difference between merely registering a business name and incorporating a company?

The mere registration of a business name (such as 'Johnny's Fish Shop') does not create a new legal entity - the registered business name is simply a name under which an existing person (or partnership, company or trust etc.) trades. However the incorporation of a company (such as 'Johnny's Fish Shop Pty Ltd') creates a separate legal entity - an entity with its own independent existence, powers, rights and obligations.

2. What are some common misconceptions about the registration of a business name?

(i) Many people wrongly think that the primary reason for the registration of a business name is to 'protect it'. Whilst the registration of a business names may well provide a degree of protection of the business name (by default, and from a mere practical point of view, as opposed to a purely 'legal' point of view), this is not the primary purpose for which the Business Names Register was set up. The primary purpose of the Business Names Register is to allow members of the public to 'look up' the register so that they can see who is 'behind' a particular business name, or more precisely, who is/are the person/s trading under the business name (and how they may be contacted). So, when persons are 'having dealings with' a business name, they may look up the Business Names Register to see who they 'are really dealing with' as a matter of law. (As an aside, and speaking generally, usually the best single way to protect a business name is, if possible, to register it as a trademark - see www.ipaustralia.gov.au/get-the-right-ip/trade-marks/.)

(ii) Many people wrongly think that they have a choice as to whether or not to register their business name. In contrast, the real position is that they generally have an obligation to do so. That is, and speaking generally, whenever a person or company, trades under a name other than their own full name (and note that in the case of a company, the company's name ending - e.g. 'Pty Ltd' - does form part of the company's full name), then they must register that name as a business name.

(iii) Many people wrongly think that just because they have their business name registered, then, by that very fact, and without more, they automatically own the business name, and have an exclusive right to use the business name, and that they cannot be prevented (or successfully sued) by others from using the business name. This belief is wrong for all sorts of reasons. For example, another person or company may already have a reputation under (and 'goodwill' in) that business name, even without having previously traded in Australia under that business name (and therefore even without having previously registered the business name in Australia). This might occur where, for example, the relevant name is so 'big' and widely known in Australia simply by virtue of TV shows, movies, magazines and the like depicting its use outside Australia. In these circumstances that other person, or company, may well have 'common law rights' which may well 'prevail' over the registered business name. Another example going against this belief is where another person or company, although not having the name registered as a business name, has the name validly registered as a registered trademark (and in circumstances which would cause the trademarked name to prevail over the registered business name).

3. How do I tell if my actual or proposed business name has already been registered by someone else?

You can do so via this page: www.tradingas.com.au/BusinessNames

4. How do I tell if my proposed or actual business name is available to be registered?

You can do so here: Business Name Availablity

Speaking generally, the business name will not be available to be registered if it has already been registered on the Business Names Register, or if it is identical to the name of an existing incorporated Australian company (ignoring the company 'name ending' e.g. ignoring the 'Pty Ltd' part). However, even if the exact business name has not already been registered, it still may not be available to be registered by you because it may neverhteless be considered to be 'near identical'(e.g. 'Smith's Pub' and 'Smith's Tavern' would be regarded as 'near identical' because the word 'Pub' and the word 'Tavern' are specifically stated - in the Business Names Registration (Availability of Names) Determination 2012 - to be taken to be the same).

5. How do I register a business name?

You can register a business name through ASIC, or with help of an ASIC registered agent or your accountant or solicitor, or you can do so through our automated online 24/7 system, TradingAs.com.au.

6. Should I consider registering my business name (e.g. 'Smiths' Pty Ltd) as a domain name (e.g. 'Smiths.com.au')?

Yes. Why? So that if or when you come to build a website for your business you don't find that your business name has been registered as a domain name by someone else.

For a .com, .net, .org, .biz, .info and .us domain names (you may want to secure them now to ensure that they are not taken by someone else), use the following search (and optional registration) feature -

Check availability now:


www.



(up to 63 characters)


.com.au
.net
.org
.biz
.info
.us


For a .com.au and .net.au domain names (you may want to attempt to secure them now to ensure that they are not taken by someone else), use the following search (and optional registration) feature -

Check availability now:


www.



(up to 63 characters)


.com.au
.net.au


Please note that from 1 July 2002 the rules for registering .com.au and .net.au domain names were considerably relaxed (and therefore that .com.au and .net.au domain names are now much easier to obtain than they used to be) - see Schedules A, C and E in the DOMAIN NAME ELIGIBILITY AND ALLOCATION POLICY RULES FOR OPEN SECOND LEVEL DOMAINS (2LDs).
 

7. If I have just 'registered my business name as a company' (or, in other words, 'incorporated my existing business name', or 'added 'Pty Ltd' to the end of my existing registered business name)*, what should I 'do', if anything, with the existing registered business name?
(*For example, you may have been a sole trader trading under your registered business name 'Smiths' and you may now have incorporated a company named 'Smiths Pty Ltd' to carry on the existing business.)

You will (generally, and loosely speaking) have two options -

(i) Transfer the business name to the company.

In the above example, if you want the newly incorporated company to have the option of trading under the name 'Smiths', as well as under its own name, 'Smiths Pty Ltd', then you will have to transfer the registraion of the business name to the company.

(ii) Relinquish the existing registered business name.

In the above example, if the newly incorporated company will always trade under its own full name, 'Smiths Pty Ltd' (and thus will always use and display the name ending 'Pty Ltd'), and thus will never trade under the existing registered business name, 'Smiths', then Incorporator expects that you would deregister the existing business name.

You may also want to refer to the following additional Incorporator information pages -

Company Name Availability
What are 'Shelf Companies'?
Some pros & cons of registering a company.
Starting, creating, or setting up a company in Australia - How to start, create or set up a company in Australia,

and you may care to have a quick look at our related UK company formation site.

Dayshift (support & bonus offers*)

1300 360 875** (from 9:00am to 5:30pm, Monday to Friday) for domain name enquiries and assistance, and for special Melbourne IT bonus offers* for Incorporator customers! Designated consultant is Hooman Pantaki.

(** or, if phoning from outside Australia, +61 3 9628 3613)

Nightshift (support only)

1300 654 677*** (from 5:30pm to 9:00am Monday evening to Friday morning, and from 5:30pm Friday evening to 9:00am Monday morning) for domain name enquiries and assistance only.

(*** or, if phoning from outside Australia, +61 3 8624 2300)

Nightshift (bonus offers only)

03 9628 3613****(from 5:30pm to 9:00am Monday evening to Friday morning, and from 5:30pm Friday evening to 9:00am Monday morning) for domain name enquiries and assistance, and for special Melbourne IT bonus offers* for Incorporator customers! Designated consultant is Hooman Pantaki.

(**** or, if phoning from outside Australia, +61 3 9628 3613)

(Times given are Sydney/Melbourne time.)

* Bonus Offer 1

Call Now on 1300 360 875 (weekdays 9:00am to 5:30pm), quote 'Incorporator' and receive SPECIAL PRICING of $110 (inc. GST) for any 2 year registration of a domain name (.com, .com.au, .net, .net.au) instead Melbourne IT's usual price of $140 (inc. GST).

* Bonus Offer 2

Order/register/purchase any 2 year domain name by telephone (1300 360 875), quote 'Incorporator', and receive a fully-hosted, single page website (including a password protected content management facility) completely free for the first year (with no obligation to pay anything or continue beyond the first year)! This free bonus normally sells for $49.95 (including GST) and has the Melbourne IT product name 'Online Business Card' - click here for a sample of such a single page website.