A name is important to a business. It is the foundation on which you will build a “brand”. Your name will be spread by your loyal customers and allies. The identity of your business will allow you to emotionally connect to your idea as a real entity in the market. Names are valuable – that’s why many of our clients are surprised when we tell them that registering a business name on the ServiceOntario.ca website does not in itself give the entrepreneur exclusive use of the name. It would seem logical that participating in a process call “Register a Business Name” would give you some kind of exclusivity or claim over the name, however, the process will technically print out more than one licence in the same name.
Searching for Other Uses of the Name
The process of registering a name also doesn’t do anything to ensure that you are not infringing on someone else’s registered trademark or other use of the name. When investigating a name for your business, don’t underestimate the value of a search using Google to discover the wider advertised uses of the name. Once you have done a Google search, dig deeper by using these tools:
- The ServiceOntario.ca Enhanced Name Search ($8, www.serviceontario.ca)will help you to find other registered sole proprietorships and general partnerships using a similar name.
- A NUANS search (Free Pre-search, www.nuans.com) will help you to find Corporations using the same name.
- A Trademark search on the Canadian Intellectual Property Office database (Free, www.cipo.gc.ca) will show registered trademarks using the same name.
You will benefit by conducting these searches because you don’t want your business to:
- infringe on someone else’s exclusive use of the name,
- cause confusion in your marketplace by having a similar businesses trade under a similar name, or
- accidentally associate your brand with a tarnished or previously debunked brand with weak market appeal.
Why Do I Register?
The business name registration process serves to declare to the Ontario Government that you are intending to trade under a name that is not your own legal first and last name (as it is displayed on your Social Insurance Card). You can use your business name registration to open a bank account and in turn deposit cheques or open merchant accountants using that name. It is also necessary for the registration of a General Partnership.
Protecting Your Name
The weakest form of protection, but a form nonetheless is to use the name actively in the market. There is a lot of grey area in proving who should have exclusive use, and the grey area is only made worse by the expanded market available to small business owners through the internet and other technologies. The specifics of your businesses’ products or services, geography, and customers are all relevant to a conflict related to using business names.
The strongest form of protection is to seek a Registered Trademark from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. The process of registering a trademark can be long and possibly costly, but ultimately gives the owner legal recourse to protect their name across the entire country. Small business owners must weigh the true value of their brand in the marketplace against the costs and time required to secure and enforce the trademark. When your brand is growing, perhaps you are franchising or moving into new markets, or for some other reason start to have larger appeal, it might be time to call a trademark agent.
The Halton Region Small Business Centre offers support to entrepreneurs with understanding the business registration process on ServiceOntario.ca. Their consultants are equipped to have a discussion with you about business name protection and can make a referral to an Intellectual Property lawyer though their Access to Professionals program.