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When do I need a business name?

What is a business name?

A business name is a name that you use to identify your business (as opposed to your products or services).

When do I need a business name?

The legal entity that owns a business can identify the business under the legal entity's own name, without the need to have a registered business name.

But if the legal entity that owns a business wants to identify the business with a different name, that different name must be registered as a business name. For example:

Owner of businessExampleYou do not need a business name if the business is identified asYou do need a business name if the business is identified
Person (sole trader)A WhiteA Whitein any other way (e.g. A White Designs)
Partnership (2 or more people)A White and B BrownA White and B Brownin any other way (e.g. Smith and Brown Designs)
CompanyA White Pty LimitedA White Pty Limitedin any other way (e.g. Smith Designs)

If I register a business name do I need to register a trademark?

Business names and trademarks serve quite different purposes:

  • Registering a business name is a legal obligation, if you choose to identify your business with a name that is different to the name of the legal entity that owns the business.
  • Registering a trademark is a choice you make as part of a branding strategy for your products and services.

Using your business name as an unregistered trademark would not give you the benefits of a registered trademark.

The differences between a business name and a trademark are described in the following table:

QuestionRegistered business nameRegistered trademark
Can I use it to identify my business?YesNo. You need a registered business name
Can I use it to identify products and services I sell?As an unregistered trademark yes, but without the benefits of a registered trademarkYes
Can I own it, so that it is my property?NoYes
Can I stop someone registering a similar name or mark?NoYes
I have a registered business name. Can I stop someone registering an identical trademark?NoNot applicable
Do I have a legal obligation to register?Yes, if you identify your business with a name other than the business's legal nameNo. You may choose to register a trademark as part of a branding strategy