When you start a new business, choosing its name can be exciting. Ideally, you want the name to be simple, catchy and scalable while conveying meaning about your business. Before you settle on a name, it is a good idea to test it on people and check whether it is available. If you register a business name too similar to other existing ones, you could violate New Zealand intellectual property (IP) laws.

If you operate as a company, you will need to reserve a name with the New Zealand Companies Office. Bear in mind that this does not grant your business automatic trade mark rights. To protect your name and brand, you will need to register a trade mark with the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office (IPONZ). This article will discuss how you can register your business name and why protecting your business name and brand is essential.

How to Choose a Great Business Name

The secret to choosing a successful business name is to keep it simple, while still allowing you to stand out from the crowd.

Brainstorming can be an excellent exercise to allow your creative juices to flow. Grab yourself a pack of Post-It notes, a whiteboard and a timer, and start writing down the first words that you can think of. After a few minutes, review and discard the ones that you do not like or do not make sense, and test the ones you decide to keep on people. 

Pro tips for choosing a great business name includes:

  • choosing a business name that can be scaled if your business grows;
  • before settling on a name, searching with ONECheck to make sure that it is not too similar to other names, as this could result in violating IP laws; and
  • that your registered business name can be different from your trading name if you would like it to be. 

Before You Register Your Name

Once you decide on a name, search for it using ONECheck to make sure it has not been taken. This free service also allows you to check if your:

  • web domain;
  • trade mark; and
  • social media usernames are available.

If your name has not been taken, you can reserve it, as well as registering your domain name and creating social media usernames.

How to Reserve a Company Name

When you are incorporating a new company in New Zealand, you need to choose and reserve a name with the Companies Office. There are strict guidelines around this. For example, your company name cannot:

  • be identical (or almost identical) to other companies;
  • breach New Zealand law (be offensive, contrary to public policy or use words protected by law such as Flag);
  • include symbols or numbers, unless they are used in an acceptable context or act as a numerical marker; or
  • use macrons, unless they are used within a Māori name.

Note that the name of a limited liability company must end in Limited or Tapui Limited.

You can apply to reserve your company name online. To do this, you will need to create an account (or login) with RealMe and the Companies Register.

How to Register with the NZBN as a Sole Trader or Partnership

If you are starting a business as a sole trader or partnership, it is a good idea to register with NZBN. As part of this process, you will receive an NZBN number. This is a unique identifier for your business that makes it easier to liaise with others. 

You can apply for free on the NZBN website by:

  • login in with RealMe®;
  • providing your business’ IRD number and proof of identity; and
  • creating a user account with the NZBN Register.

How to Protect Your Name with a Trade Mark 

For a lot of businesses, their name is a valuable asset, as it forms part of their IP. Therefore, it is a good idea to protect it and manage it like any other property right.

You can do this by registering a trade mark with IPONZ. The application process includes: 

  • searching for competing trade marks (and applying for an additional search and preliminary advice report if needed);
  • deciding whether you want to trade mark a word, image or both;
  • deciding who should own the trade mark (most often the business but in some instances an individual or holding company); 
  • determining which specification your goods and services fall into; and
  • creating a user account with IPONZ.

Bear in mind that if a non-owner is using it, there should be a licensing agreement in place. 

Some of the benefits of protecting your name and brand include having:

  • exclusive rights to use your trade mark within New Zealand;
  • legal protection to stop others from trying to copy your brand;
  • an intangible asset that increases in value over time; and
  • the option to sell or assign your trade mark to another person or business, or license its use to other parties.

As long as you do not let your trade mark lapse, you can protect your business name and brand indefinitely. You can renew your trade mark every ten years.

Key Takeaways

There are various methods of registering your business name in New Zealand. This depends on whether you are operating as a:

  • company;
  • sole trader; or
  • partnership. 

Some key things to take into account include:

  • when you are incorporating a new company, you need to reserve a name with the Companies Office;
  • when you operate as a sole trader or partnership, you can register with the NZBN; and
  • regardless of the business structure you choose, you should register a trade mark with IPONZ to protect your name and brand.

If you need help registering your business name or trade mark, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

FAQs

How do I reserve a business name NZ?

Before you reserve a business name, you need to make sure no other businesses in New Zealand, including companies, are using it (or a similar version). You can conduct a free search using ONECheck. This service allows you to reserve your name if it is available. You will also need to decide on a business structure, because, if you want to incorporate a company, you need to choose and reserve your company name with the Companies Office.

Can I use the word company in my business name?

In New Zealand, there are no laws that prevent you from using the word company in your business name but make sure you do not infringe any existing trade marks or use restricted words. For example, you cannot use the same name as a registered company, especially if you are both in the same field. You should conduct a search with both the Companies Office and ONECheck to make sure that your chosen business name has not been registered already.

Should I copyright my business name?

Copyright is designed to protect original creative works such as music. If you want to protect your business name and brand, you need to register a trade mark with IPONZ. With a registered trade mark, you can protect your business name and brand indefinitely, by stopping others from trying to copy it, as long as you renew your trade mark every 10 years.

What is the difference between a trading name and a business name?

Your trading name is the name you operate under, that is different from your registered business name. This approach can be beneficial for branding reasons. If you use a trading name, you need to ensure that your business documents and communications also display your registered company’s name, to avoid potential liability claims as a result of misleading your customers.

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