Naming your Business
Choosing a business name is an important decision. Your name might communicate the products and services your business offers. It may also speak to your business’ values. “Speedy Glass” does both: it says that the business offers glass services and that they aim to do so quickly.
Using a business name gives you common law trademark rights to it. This type of ownership right grows within the region where the business is actively working and creating its reputation.
It takes time to build up substantial ownership rights to a business name by common law. Registering your business in your business name can help because it provides some evidence and notice to others of your use of it.
In BC registering a business name is part of the process of registering a business; you cannot register your business name separate from registering your business.
The rules regarding business registrations depend on how you plan to structure your business. There are three general business structures:
- Sole Proprietorship: A sole proprietorship is essentially a self-employed individual. If you operate under your given name you do not have to register your business unless it is required for obtaining a business license in the area you are working.
- Partnership: A partnership is the combined efforts of two or more entities (people or corporations) to provide products or services. There are a few different categories of partnerships: general partnership, limited partnership, or limited liability partnership. If a partnership’s business is involved in trading, manufacturing or mining it must be registered under the Partnership Act. General partnerships not operating in those sectors do not need to be registered (unless required to obtain a business license). Limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships have registration requirements unique to them.
- Corporation: You can use your chosen name as part of your company name. In naming your company remember that you are required to have three parts:
a. a distinctive element (e.g. a name, a place or street, or even a completely made-up
b. a descriptive element (e.g. Holdings, Investments, Enterprises), and
c. a corporate designation (e.g. Inc., Ltd., Corp.).
Alternatively, and especially if your chosen name does not fit the corporate naming requirements, you can register a business name in the same way as a sole proprietor would. In this case the company, as an entity unto itself, acts as the sole proprietor. This is referred to as a “Doing Business As” registration.
The BC government provides information packages on the different forms of businesses and the registration requirements for each.
Registration does not provide complete protection. If you register your sole proprietorship, for instance, that registration does not stop another person from using the same name as part of their corporate name. It also does not protect you against businesses registered in other provinces or with the federal government with the same or similar name.
It also does not provide protection from common law naming rights that were already established at the time you registered. That is, if there is a well-established business with the same, or similar, name at the time you register yours, that business could still have better rights to the name than you. You must also be aware of registered trademarks which “trump” all other businesses registered with a name similar to the name used in the trademark.
So, when you have your name chosen and you want to protect it, keep in mind that registration can help but it is not enough. Trademarking your name is the best protection combined with regular use of it. If you are interested in trademarking your business name the Canada Intellectual Property Office has a great resource called Guide to Trademarks in Canada