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What are the differences between trademarks, business names, company names and domain names?

Type of nameWhat is it used for?Do I need to register it?
Trademark

A trademark is used to identify a product or service in the marketplace and to distinguish it from other products and services.

A registered trademark must specify the types (or classes) of goods and services in relation to which it is used.

No, but it is prudent to do so.

A registered trademark enjoys the protection of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cwlth), as well as the protection of the general law.

An unregistered trademark can be protected by the general law only.

Business name

A business name is a name that is used to identify a business, not a product or service.

A business name is the name that the legal entity that owns the business will use to promote the business.

The legal entity that owns the business may be:

  • a person, who is described as a sole trader
  • a number of people, described as being in partnership
  • a company, which will usually have the words 'Pty Limited' (or some variation) at the end of its name.

If one of these types of legal entities wants to call its business something other than its own name, it must register a business name. For example, the Audio-Visual Copyright Society Limited trades as Screenrights.

If the legal entity that owns the business trades under its own name, a business name is not necessary.

It is possible to register a trademark that is the same as a business name, but their different registrations are to achieve different objectives:

  • Registration as a trademark is to brand a product or service.
  • Registration as a business name is to identify the legal entity that owns the business (and may have many products and services).

Yes.

The National Business Names Register is administered by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Company name

A company name is the name of the type of legal entity that will usually have the words 'Pty Limited' (or some variation) at the end of its name.

A company that wants to call its business something other than the company's own name must register a business name.

A company does not need to register a business name if it uses its own name.

A company name identifies the legal entity that owns the business, as distinct from identifying its products and services.

It is possible to register a trademark that is the same as a company's name, but their different registrations are to achieve different objectives:

  • Registration as a trademark is to brand a product or service.
  • Registration of the company name is to identity the company legal entity (which may have many products and services).

Yes.

A company name is registered when the company is registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Domain name

A domain name is an internet address. Domain names let an internet user visit a specific website.

As a part of a branding strategy, it is very common for a domain name to be the same, or similar to a trademark, a business name, or a company name, but these different registrations are to achieve different objectives:

  • A domain name is registered so that there is an internet address.
  • A trademark is registered to identify a product or service.
  • A business name is registered to identify a business that wishes to trade other than with its own name.
  • A company name is the name of a specific type of legal entity.

Yes.

There are a number of Australian domain name registries.