Disputes about similar business names
This is Information Sheet 187 (INFO 187). It outlines what you should do if you are concerned about a similar business name.
Disputes sometimes arise between business owners over the use of similar business names. You may have concerns that similar business names are confusing customers, or believe that you have a legal right to the exclusive use of a name.
ASIC may not always be able to help you in resolving these disputes and you may need to consider different options.
This information sheet (INFO 187) sets out:
- ASIC's role in registering business names
- what you should do if you are concerned about a similar business name
Registration of business names
ASIC is responsible for registering business names under the Business Names Registration Act 2011 (Business Names Act).
The Business Names Register displays all business names so that those who engage with a business can identify the business and how to contact them.
Before we register a business name, we must apply rules that are made to avoid confusion between business names on the register: see the rules under the Business Names Registration (Availability of Names) Determination 2015.
The rules specify how we are to work out whether a business name is identical or nearly identical to another name. Under the rules, the phrase 'identical or nearly identical' has a specific meaning. If a name is identical or nearly identical to another name, we must not register it. However, the law does not prevent the registration of business names that are similar.
For more information on the rules, see Business name availability tests.
Protecting your business name
Registering a business name does not:
- give you the exclusive right to use the name or any part of the name
- prevent another person from registering a similar name
- offer protection of a name or a brand like a trademark
- prevent somebody who has registered it as a trademark from using the name or taking legal action to protect their trademark.
See How to protect your business name for more information.
What you should do if you are concerned about a similar business name
If you have a dispute about similar business names, there are a number of options available to you.
Get more information
If you believe another business is infringing on your trademark, copyright or other intellectual property, you should visit the IP Australia website to find out more about your rights.
If you believe another business is 'passing off' as your business or is being misleading or deceptive in its conduct, you should visit the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website to find out more about competition, fair trade and your rights.
Seek legal advice
There may be private legal options available to you. We recommend you seek legal advice.
If you are unsure about how to access legal advice, contact the Law Society in your state or territory.
Ask for a review of an ASIC decision to register a name
We must follow the Business Names Act and the rules it sets out to register a business name. If you believe that we did not follow the law, you may be able to ask us to review our decision to register that business name.
When we review a decision to register a business name, we can only consider whether the original business name application met the rules set out in the Business Names Act.
We cannot take into account other matters, such as:
- concerns about 'passing off', competition or fair trade, or
- trademarks or any other intellectual property rights you may have in the name.
For more information, see Request a review of an ASIC decision.
Where can I get more information?
- Visit our website for information on:
- ASIC's role and the laws we administer
- what business names are available and whether a name is identical or nearly identical
- protecting your small business.
- Read Regulatory Guide 235 Registering your business name (RG 235).
Please note that this information sheet is a summary giving you basic information about a particular topic. It does not cover the whole of the relevant law regarding that topic, and it is not a substitute for professional advice.
You should also note that because this information sheet avoids legal language wherever possible, it might include some generalisations about the application of the law. Some provisions of the law referred to have exceptions or important qualifications. In most cases your particular circumstances may be taken into account when determining how the law applies to you.
Information sheets provide concise guidance on a specific process or compliance issue or an overview of detailed guidance.
This information sheet was issued in July 2019.