Choosing a Business Name
Choosing a new business or company name can be more complicated than initially thought, as it is very important that the name you choose will help to support your business in the long term and that it doesn't clash with businesses with similar names. There is usually a high cost to change your name at a later date - but this can be avoided by considering the points below...
Business or Trading name
In New Zealand, there is no central register for business names so sole traders and partnerships are free to use any business or trade name they choose (unless you are forming a company). However, it is still important to avoid possible conflict with another business who may claim your name is similar to their trading name, or who already owns the .co.nz domain name of your proposed business name.
Here are some steps you can take:
1) Given that the web is such an important component to most businesses (over time it will be critical), it may be useful to secure a domain name first (in conjunction with steps 2-4 below). In your web browser, type the name of the name you are considering with ".co.nz" at the end of it to see if a business is already using it online. If the page does not load, that domain may be available for registration at a registrar such as Register Direct. However, most of the good domain names have already been taken - if there is content displaying at the URL though, the domain may simply be 'parked' for later use and could be available for sale. Alternatively you may opt to buy one from a site such as DomainsForSale.co.nz.
2) Use the Register Search on the Companies Office website to check for existing companies with exact or similar names.
3) Use the Trademark Search on the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) site to see if there are existing claims to trading, brand, or product names.
4) Search telephone books, business directories, and search engines such as Google, UBD, WhitePages / YellowPages
5) Make sure you check the dictionary definition and synonyms of your proposed name (some terms may have multiple meanings that may not shine a positive light on your business), then run your shortlist by friends & family to see what they think.
It is possible for someone else to use the same business name if you plan to operate as either as a sole trader or a partnership. Although the Fair Trading Act does offer some protection, there may be little you could do to prevent other businesses from using a similar name - expecially smaller businesses who may operate in other geographic areas. This is why it is a good idea to apply for a trademark not only to obtain greater legal protection, but to help inform others who may consider using your name in future that it is being used. Prevention is cheaper and less painful than the cure!
A short, memorable domain name in .co.nz format is essential for your New Zealand business. If you also export, you should attempt to register or acquire a domain in each market's local domain suffix - this gives the appearance of local commitment and support. This may be an expensive and time consuming process, but the longer you leave it the more expensive it will be to acquire each domain.
If you are only operating in NZ, this is much easier
A business gains a limited amount of protection for their name when they incorporate a company using that name. When you form a NZ company, you can be assured that another company cannot be formed with exactly the same name as yours. However, you cannot stop existing or new businesses operating as sole traders or partnerships from using the same name unless you take them to court, but that will take time and money and it is not certain that you will win.
Please note that you may have multiple trading names operating under one company as a legal entity.
The first step towards incorporating a company is reserving a name online.
Once you have registered a trademark you can be certain that another trademark with a name and image exactly the same as yours cannot be registered. Registering your trademark also enables you to take action against anyone attempting to use an identical or a 'confusingly similar' name within the same or a similar industry.
Trademark registration can be simple if it is for a unique term, but if you are attempting to trademark a more generic term or phrase you may want to consult with a Laywer or IP specialist. For more information visit the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) site.
All the best in securing a great name for your new business venture!