So you’ve started a business, and can’t wait to use the amazing business name you’ve always dreamed about. But before you do, you’re worried about making sure you have a unique business name, as well as if it’s possible for two companies to share the same one. And if it is allowed, is it a good idea to have the same company name as another business?
Before you go through the process of trademarking a name or changing it completely, let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of business naming, including what it means to have the same name as another business, and how you can address this possible business conflict. We’ll also look at the trademark protection process so you can claim the name you want, and ensure it legally belongs to your business only.
Can my company have the same name as another company?
As an entrepreneur, your company formation affects your legal right to all facets of your business, including your business name.
If you have registered your business name as a sole proprietorship or a partnership, you get to access the benefits of being a business owner, but you do not have any business name protection whatsoever. So, your company can have the same name as another company, and vice versa, with no claims of trademark infringement.
However, if your business is using a company name that’s the same as another incorporated company, there could be grounds for a legal dispute, and you may not be able to legally use the business name.
What are the rules around names that are the same or too similar?
If you’re worried about your company using the same name as another company and aren’t sure what the rules are around business names that are the same or similar, pause and consider your customer. The claim to a business name has a lot to do with consumer confusion, and whether having two similar or same names will be a sore point for consumers. If you and another business have the same or similar name, but you are both not operating in the same industry or field, you may have a case for no consumer confusion, and there may be no issue.
For example, maybe your company works in tech, and a business with the same or similar name works in mining. In this case, the consumer confusion factor is pretty low. However, if two companies are operating in the same field or industry, such as two clothing brands with the same name, this could be an issue.
Another consideration is the name first rule. If your business was the first to use the name and registered the name first, then you may have the grounds to argue your legal right to the business name. If your company trademarks the name first, this will also give you more of a right to use the name.
How do I check if the company name I want is already taken?
If you are registered as a sole proprietorship or a partnership, you can’t really check if your company name is already taken beyond typing it into a search engine like Google and seeing what comes up. Monitoring what’s online is an important way to prevent naming issues and protect your business’ brand.
If you decide to incorporate your business, you can confirm you are using a unique business name by doing a NUANS name search, the official Canadian federal trademark search. Submit your proposed corporate name to the federal database to see if there are any same or similar names already registered. To be approved by Corporations Canada, your business name must be distinct and not conflict with any existing business names. It also cannot be similar to the name of another business in your geographical area that sells similar goods or services.
Keep in mind that though your business name may be approved by Corporations Canada, there is still a chance that another corporation is already using it, and in that case, it will be your responsibility as a business owner to settle any disputes with other businesses.
How can I protect my company’s name?
To ensure your company name is yours alone, start by incorporating your business at the provincial and federal levels. When you incorporate at both levels, your business name is reserved for use by your business only throughout Canada, and you have a legal claim to using the name.
Another option is to do a trademark registration. Doing this gives you trademark rights to your business name and gives you the legal right to pursue trademark infringement lawsuits at a provincial or federal level if needed. Make sure you have the necessary trademarks for your business name, as well as incorporation in place, to protect your brand.
Should I also protect my domain name?
Absolutely! Domain names are also an important consideration when it comes to registering and trademarking, especially as many businesses operate online and have a strong online brand presence. The same trademark laws for registered company names extends to domain names. If another business has the same domain name as you, you can take legal action against them for trademark infringement, and vice versa. Protect your domain name by purchasing it and using it your company’s branding, packaging, and other marketing collateral so it is clear it is linked to your business, and not available for use by other companies.
How do I settle a name dispute with another business?
If you end up coming across another business with the same name, trademark, or domain name as yours, send them a cease and desist letter as a warning. This will demonstrate you are aware of trademark law and would like them to stop using the name. If they do not respond appropriately, and the violation continues, you can take further legal action to demonstrate the infringement has negatively impacted your business. As the wronged party, you may be entitled to damages, depending on the severity of the infringement.
Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of naming your business, and protecting your brand, you should be able to pursue this aspect of entrepreneurship with confidence and clarity.
This article offers general information only, is current as of the date of publication, and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.