Ask an Expert
Securing a Good Trade Name
Expert: Julie King
I am very interested in starting an Internet based business. I don't know where to begin. Find distributors first or build the web page or set up a merchant account? Should I register the trade name first and set up the business bank account? I feel I have a good idea for an Internet business, but do not know where to begin. I am really excited about this but I am lost at where to begin. Please help.
Julie King answered:
The Internet has created many new business opportunities. However, because of the newness of this medium, the associated risks and the need to move quickly, I believe that execution of an Internet business idea is critical to the success (or failure) of an online business. Securing a good trade name is an essential part of the process for most online businesses.
If you are concerned that you might lose a good name if you don't act quickly, my suggestion would be to register the name immediately, but that you be prepared to hand over the name to the rightful owner if any conflicts arise.
As a website business, your domain name - the name people will use to find your website - will most likely be the name that is most often in front of your customers. Securing a good domain name is very important and increasingly difficult. The best domain name to use is a ".com" name, as people now associate "dot-com" with Internet businesses and websites. There are other options as well, including .ca, .net and .org, but the .com domain name will most likely be the best option for your business.
So, the first step in selecting a domain name is to use these online resources to check on the availability of names that you would like to use.
When securing a domain name, you will want to be sure that you will not be in conflict with an existing trademark or incorporated business name. There are two free databases online that you can use to search for possible trademark conflicts in Canada and the U.S.:
Canadian Trade-marks Database
US Trademark Search
When searching for trademarks that could conflict with your proposed name, include different combinations and partial uses of the name. For example, if you wanted to register "honeybees.com", you could check for "honey" and "bees", "honeybees", "honey" and "bees" and ".com", and a number of additional combinations. If there is another name in one of these databases it does not automatically mean that you will not be able to use the name, because it is sometimes possible for companies in different industries to use the same name. However, if you do identify a possible name conflict, you will most likely want to seek that advice of a lawyer on how to proceed.
Given that most incorporated businesses have a business phone line and are therefore listed in the phone book under their business name, Canada411 is a good resource that will quickly indicate whether other companies are already using a similar or identical name to the one you are considering. However, as the Canada411 site is not comprehensive database, this does not cover businesses in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
The abovementioned process can save you from wasting money on name searches that have obvious conflicts. With these steps out of the way you should have a good idea if the name you want to use is clear; it is now time to order a formal name search, known as a NUANS - Newly Upgraded Automated Name Search - report, from a service bureau. The NUANS will bring up any other name conflicts within the Canada, and the search will secure the name (assuming there are no serious conflicts) for you for the following 90 days. As well, if you will want to protect the name that you plan to use, and a lawyer will be able to help you understand your options.
When you are ready to register a name, you can use a free such as Register.com to temporarily host the domain for free until you are ready to launch the live website.
It would be impossible to answer the rest of your question without a good understanding of your business. The best start-up strategies are depend on the individual business, and vary from company to company. My first suggestion would be for you to investigate programs in your area that might enable you to access advice from professional consultants. Many of these programs are free, and most help entrepreneurs develop a start-up strategy and possibly a formal business plan.
For example, new business owners in Newmarket, Ont. can apply to the Community Business Access Centre's Business Incubator Program. Qualifying businesses that enter the program gain help with the start-up of their businesses and have access to general and specialized consultants that can help them get their businesses up and running.
Programs vary from area to area, and one of the best ways to locate programs in your area is to get in touch with local business associations and support centres such as the YMCA Enterprise Centres.
You will also find a lot of valuable information in the Starting a Business Guide on CanadaOne.
I hope that helps, and wish you great success with your business.
-- Julie King
About the author
Julie King is the co-founder and managing editor of CanadaOne, Canada's first small business portal.