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Company names
A business starts building its brand (trading name or mark) from the day it opens. The longer a business operates the more valuable its brand recognition in the marketplace becomes. This is known as brand awareness and could eventually form an important asset for your business.

Your business name can also be your brand or trade mark for example, Acme Shoes. Or you could choose to trade your products under a separate brand name, for example, Acme Shoes trading as Outstanding Farm Boots. In either case, it makes sense to gain as much protection for your investment in your trading brands as possible.

If you are operating as a sole trader, there is no registry of trading names but you do gain name protection under the Fair Trading Act 1986 against others wishing later to trade under the same or ‘confusingly similar’ name. However, you still face the challenge of finding out if a similar or identical trading name already exists.

Forming a company gives you a certain amount of protection since you will not be allowed to register a company name that is identical or almost identical to an existing company, or to a reserved name. No one else will be allowed to register a company name that is identical or almost identical to the one you have reserved (for 20 days) or incorporated.

However, the registration of a company name does not protect that name from use by others. Property rights in the particular name can be established under the Trade Marks Act 2002. Consideration should be given to protecting that name as a trade mark, by applying to register your company name and/or trading name, and any associated logos, brands or unique identifiers, that your business may use with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand.

Therefore it is important to check that the name of your business is not already in use.

Here are some search options:
  • Use the Register Search service on this website to ensure a similar name to the one you wish to use is not already registered as a company. (Do this search even if you intend to operate as a sole trader.)
  • Take advantage of the free Trade Mark Search available on the website of the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand for a possible trade mark or brand name clash. Further assistance with searching can be found in the Search Guide. If you would like IPONZ to conduct a search of the Trade Mark register on your behalf, you can make a request for a fee of NZ$22.50 per class (fee includes GST).
  • You can also check online directories such as the Yellow Pages or UBD directories.

The point is that you don’t want to invest in building up recognition of your trading name in the marketplace only to find that you have to change it later because it is ‘confusingly similar’ to the name of some other existing business.

One step towards better protection is to register your desired trading name as a trade mark through the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) website. For example, you might register Acme Boots Ltd as a company name, and then register Acme Boots (plus logo design) as a trade mark.

Once you are the holder of a registered trade mark you can take action against someone using an identical or confusingly similar name in relation to the same or a similar industry.

Source: New Zealand Companies Office

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