A new business owner registered a company through the Companies Office and started trading using that name, without the word Limited.

Shortly afterwards they were contacted by another company’s lawyer with a letter demanding they stop using “their” trading name. The two names were very similar.

Many are under the assumption that once you have incorporated your company on the Companies Office register that will then protect your company’s name.

However, this is not the case because the Companies Office does not consider whether a company’s chosen name infringes on another party’s trade mark, or even if the name is very similar to another registered company.

The Companies office will only prevent a name being reserved and registered if it is identical to another company’s name.

As a result, companies can be incorporated with very similar names. For example, the Companies Office would allow incorporation of “Collins 2018 Ltd”, and incorporation of “Collins Limited”.

It can be seen therefore that the Companies Office provides very little protection over a company’s name.

To protect your company’s name from being used by other traders in an identical, or similar way, companies should register their name as a trade mark with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand.

Registering your company’s name as a trade mark provides the following benefits:

  • Exclusive right to use the trade mark throughout New Zealand to promote the goods and/or services it covers;
  • Use of the ® symbol with the trade mark;
  • Legal protection to deter others from trying to imitate your brand; and
  • Allows you to sell or assign the trademark to another person or business, or license its use to other parties.

Before you choose the name of your company, it is vital to check whether other companies are trading under the same or similar proposed name.

Failure to check could mean that even if you get the name registered, your company may be infringing on another company’s trade mark.

The cost of getting it wrong can be significant as a company may have to defend a legal action for infringement, and/or go through the process and expense of changing its name and re-branding.

Christina Fleetwood

Commercial Lawyer
Wellington