Understanding the differences between trademarks, business names, corporate names, and domain names is important for establishing and protecting your rights.
It can be quite confusing distinguishing between trademarks, business names, trade names and corporate names. There are difficulties with these terms, as governments and people use them differently. For example in Ontario, a “business name” is most often used to refer to the name of a business that is not incorporated. On the other hand, Alberta uses “trade name” instead of “business name” in its legislation for essentially the same thing. In addition, many people refer to a “corporate name” as being a “business name.” All three of these refer to the names of businesses, be they incorporated or unincorporated.
This is the formal name under which you incorporate. It will always end with an incorporation indicator, or “legal ending,” such as Inc., Incorporated, Ltd., or Limited.
A trade name is the name under which you carry on your business. It can be the legal name of your corporation, your partnership or your sole proprietorship. A trademark is a word, symbol, design or combination of these that is used to distinguish your wares or services from those of others in the marketplace. A trade name can be registered as a trademark, but only if it is being used as a trademark. And contrary to common perception, registration of a trade name does not protect the name. Only registration as a trademark can effectively do so.
The name under which the business is carried on, whether the business is incorporated or unincorporated. If it is a sole proprietorship or a partnership in Ontario, the name of the business must be registered, and that usually becomes the business name, i.e., the name under which the business is carried on.
A distinctive mark (for example a word, phrase, symbol or design, or some combination thereof) that is affixed to or accompanies an article or service which is intended for sale. Its purpose is to indicate that it is manufactured, selected or sold by a particular person or firm. According to the standard definition, it is “a mark that has been adopted to distinguish the source of a particular good and/or service from other sources in a similar line of business.”
This is your “address” on the Internet.
For example, ABC Company could be selling its widgets using the name “Zink” on its packaging. The business name would be ABC Company, and the trademark would be “Zink.” If this company wanted to protect “Zink”, then it would apply for the registration of the trademark. In this case the business name is different than the trademark.
ABC Company may also wish to protect its corporate name “ABC.” It is a common misconception that a business name, trade name or corporate name registration protects the name. In fact, only a trademark can protect a name. In this case, ABC Company would have to use ‘ABC’ as a trademark and should also apply for a trademark registration.