Registering a business name

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

A business name is a name or title under which you trade; however registering a business name is not always necessary. There are three basic business structures in New Zealand: sole trader, partnership and company. Most businesses start as sole traders, then progress to partnership or company status later. If you form a company, then various formal steps are required to register the company, but even if you start as a sole trader, you should notify Inland Revenue so that they can record you are self-employed. Likewise, if you form a partnership, you will need to register your partnership with the IRD. The IRD has a great online Tool for Business where you can find all the information on how to go about doing this, along with links to download the relevant forms.

For more information on the various business structures and the pros and cons of each, see our article on Setting up a business or visit the website on Starting Up A Business from the New Zealand Government.

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

How to register a company

There are some wrinkles that you need to be aware of so at least discussing your intention with an accountant or lawyer is a good idea. They will be able to help you with setting up a company and advise you on a suitable structure and constitution.

If you’d prefer to do-it-yourself then you can simply visit the Companies Office website and this will step you through the process of how to get started.

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 trade mark gives you ownership. A trade marked business name means you and only you can use that name in New Zealand in your line of business.

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

For more information on trade marks, visit the Intellectual Property Office website (IPONZ).

How to register your business name as a trade mark

You can register your business name as a trade mark with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ).

The first step is to search the trade marks database and other goods and services to make sure you won’t be infringing upon any existing trade marked names. You can search the trade mark database yourself, or pay someone else, such as a solicitor, to do it for you.

IPONZ also has a professional search service called the Search and Preliminary Advice Service. For around $40, they’ll search the database and get back to you if there’s already a registered trade mark that’s identical or very similar to your proposed business name and they’ll also inform you whether the trade mark is eligible for registration in relation to whether or not it is descriptive and/or distinctive. To apply for a search visit the IPONZ website.

Will my trade mark be accepted for registration?

Your trade mark must distinguish your goods or services from others in the marketplace. This means it’s very difficult to register trade marks that indicate the kind, quality, quantity, intended purpose or dollar value of the good/service, unless these features are presented in a unique or unusual way, or incorporated into a trade mark as one of its elements.

Also a trade mark may not be able to be registered if it:

  • Is the same as, or similar to, or a translation of, another trade mark that is well known in New Zealand
  • Is likely to mislead, confuse or is offensive
  • Is a superlative, e.g. BEST, SUPER, etc.
  • Is a descriptive term, e.g. SWEET for ice cream
  • Is a geographical location associated with the good or service, e.g. BLUFF for oysters
  • Contains a representation, or an imitation of any representation, of Her Majesty or any member of the Royal family
  • Contains a representation of a flag, armorial bearing, insignia, orders of chivalry or state emblem
  • Suggests endorsement or licence by a particular person or organisation.

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 Protecting your idea and Setting up a business.