Starting a business can be both stressful and exciting. You want to be a successful entrepreneur, which requires time and hard work. But you’ve come this far, and now it’s time to come up with a snappy name for your business.

It’s a critical step. After all, a catchy business name can create brand awareness, drive customer loyalty and sales, and eventually help you attract the talent you need when it’s time to hire employees. It’ll also be on all your advertising and marketing materials, legal documents, and more.

Here are the steps you need to take:

A woman doing a business name search

How to Choose a Business Name

There are a few things to consider when choosing a name, such as:

  • Make it relevant. A name should describe the product or service you offer. Having a vague name that’s irrelevant might confuse potential customers. For instance, retailer Woolworth changed its name in 1998 to Venator, the Latin word for hunter. But the company didn’t have anything to do with hunting. It changed its name to Foot Locker, its largest division, three years later.
  • It should be memorable and easy to pronounce. There’s nothing worse than not being able to pronounce a company’s name. When telecom companies Bell Atlantic and GTE merged in 2000, the combined company took on the name Verizon. The name is memorable, but the pronunciation needed to be included in some news stories.
  • Be distinctive. Having a unique name is good for two reasons. One, it won’t be confused with another company or brand. And two, you’ll be less likely to face legal problems.
  • Keep it short. A short name is easy to remember and good for promotion. It’s also good for your web domain and URL as it won’t take long to type into a browser.
  • Have multiple options. While you may have come up with what you think is the perfect name, there’s always a chance the name has already been taken. Don’t get hung up on one moniker. Create a list, so you want to have other names to select.

How to Find Out If a Business Name Is Already Taken

Under the law, your business name can’t be similar or the same as an existing business name or trademark. To prevent that from happening, you should conduct a search. 

The first search should be on the internet. See if another company is using that name or something similar. You can also look if the domain name or social media handles are taken.

There are also two national name databases you can search:

1. Nuans, the Canadian corporate names and trademarks database, provides a list of names and trademarks similar or identical to the one searched.

2. Canada’s business registries provide you with information on businesses from the official registries of Corporations Canada, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.

You should also search provincial and territorial databases in the event you may do business outside of where you plan to operate:

How to Register Your Business Name

Before registering your name, you should decide your business structure (either sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation). 

If you’re a sole proprietor and operate under your legal name, you don’t usually need to register a business name. But if you’re not a sole proprietor, you need to register a corporate or trade name. You can also register a trademark if desired.

When you incorporate in a province or territory, you have exclusive use of that name in that jurisdiction. When you incorporate federally, you have exclusive use of the name across Canada.

If you decide to use a name that’s not your legal business or given name, it must be registered as a trade name. If you don’t, you may face fines or legal consequences. 

Trade names can only be registered provincially or territorially:

In Newfoundland and Labrador, registration is only needed for cooperatives and corporations, not trade names.

Is a Business Name the Same as a Trademark?

A business name and a trademark are two different things. A business name is a name your business operates under, while a trademark may be one or more words, designs, or sounds that distinguish your business from others.

Registering a trademark protects it from being misused by others. You also have exclusive rights to use it across Canada for 10 years, after which you need to renew it. You can do a trademark search using the Canadian Trademarks Database.

What Is a Patent?

If you invent something, you may be able to get a patent. A patent provides you with an exclusive right to use your invention for 20 years. 

An invention can get patent protection if it’s the first of its kind, functional, and it shows ingenuity. The invention must be a product, chemical composition, machine, process, or an improvement of one of these.

Before filing a patent application, you should check if what you’ve invented or something similar has already been patented. The Canadian Patents Database, PATENTSCOPE, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and Google Patents are good places to start.

Once you’re ready to file, it’s recommended that you get a patent agent due to the amount of preparation and time required to apply. 

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is another form of intellectual property but is different from a trademark or patent.

Copyright is the right to legal right to produce, reproduce, sell, licence, perform, or publish original work. If someone wants to use or copy the work, they usually need permission and must provide payment. Some examples of work that can be copyrighted include books, articles, plays, songs, paintings, and software.

Typically, the creator is the copyright owner unless there’s an agreement with an employer or business stating otherwise.

Your work is usually protected automatically when it’s created. However, you can also register your copyright and get a certificate used in court to prove that you own the work.

What Insurance Do I Need to Protect My Intellectual Property?

A type of business insurance coverage you can get for intellectual property (IP) is IP insurance. It can help you or your business defend itself if your trademarks, patents, or copyrights are infringed. Some coverage may include profit losses or loss of IP rights. Speak to a Zensurance licensed broker to find out what your options are.

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