You’ve got your million dollar idea, your business plan, investors and, importantly, a really unique and catchy name for your company! Protecting your name can be just as important as protecting the idea itself. It is important to ensure that you properly register your name to ensure that nobody else is able to use it.
Registered Name vs Trading Name
There are two types of names a business can use, one is the registered name, which is the one registered with the Companies Office. The other is a trading name, which you can think of as being like a nickname – it’s what everyone knows you by, but not what’s on your official documents. These two names might be very similar (i.e. ‘Wakefields Lawyers Limited’ vs ‘Wakefields Lawyers’) or vastly different (i.e. ‘Restaurant Brands Limited’ vs ‘Starbucks’).
How safe is a name?
While a company’s registered name must be different from any others registered, this process alone does not stop someone else from using a trading name similar to yours. The Fair Trading Act 1986 (FTA) does offer some protection if the use of a trading name is “… misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive.” For example, Airport Rentals Ltd, under the trading name ‘Airport Rentals’ successfully prevented a competitor using the name ‘Airport Car Rentals’ under the FTA. However, this ruling applied only to any area within 50km of Christchurch Airport. This ruling under the FTA does not stop them encountering the same problem in another city and having to go through the whole process again.
How can I protect my name?
Protecting a trading name can be done by applying to register a trademark with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ). There are three types of trademark you can apply for, word trademarks, image trademarks and combined trademarks (which are a combination of words and an image, or words in a stylised form). You will also need to specify all goods and/or services that you want to use the trademark for, as the cost of the application will depend on how many of these classifications you are applying under.
A good trade mark will distinguish your products or services from others and provides legal protection from others trying to imitate your brand.
A trademark granted through IPONZ is only applicable in New Zealand. If your want to protect your brand in other countries, you can pick and choose which ones you want to apply in. Doing this is likely to be extremely time-consuming, as each country will have its own process, regulations and costs.
You can instead apply for an international trademark under a system called the ‘Madrid Protocol.’ This means you only have to apply once, and provided certain criteria are met, you may be able to use your IPONZ application to help the process along. The Madrid Protocol currently covers 116 countries. A full list can be found here: http://www.wipo.int/madrid/en/members/
We’re here to help!
Choosing a name can be one of the most enjoyable parts of putting your big bright idea into action! So that you don’t “dull the shine” during such a fun process, contact us today so we can take care of the less glamorous bits – or even help you bounce some ideas around. Give us a call on 04 970 3600 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll take care of the rest!