The nature of a registered business name (RBN) is a common source of confusion and misunderstanding. A frequent misconception is that an RBN is a form of trade mark: it is not. Having an RBN is a simple compliance requirement and does not offer any protection in the name registered.
Running a business
There are a range of ways in which a business can be operated:
- By an individual (as a sole trader). An individual running a business is personally and fully liable if sued. Sole traders do not have to register with the Companies Registration Office (CRO) and are governed by the general law, rather than any specific regulatory law.
- By a partnership. The individual members of the partnership are jointly and severally liable if sued. Most partnerships do not register with the CRO. They are governed by the Partnership Act 1890. When sued, the defendant is listed with the individual partners named individually along with the partnership name (eg. Joe Bloggs v. Jane Bloggs, Jack Bloggs and Joanne Bloggs, practising under the name and style of Bloggs & Partners Solicitors).
- By a limited company. There are various types of limited company and additional incorporation options have been proposed. Unlike a sole trader or partnership, a limited company is a legal person in its own right, distinct from its shareholders. The liability of shareholders is limited in accordance with the share structure of the company. The Companies Acts regulate the operation of limited companies.
Using a business name
Whatever of the above structures one uses to carry on business, an RBN will often be necessary. Where a name is used in the course of business that is not true name of the business, the Registration of Business Names Act 1963 requires that the name is registered with the CRO.
The following are common examples of when registration is required:
- Jane Bloggs runs a corner shop. If she calls the shop Bloggs’ Stores, she must register that as an RBN. She will then be Jane Bloggs trading as (t/a) Bloggs’ Stores.
- Joe Bloggs runs a construction company, Joe Bloggs Construction Limited. If the company trades as Bloggs’ Builders it must register that name. The company will then be Joe Bloggs Construction Limited t/a Bloggs’ Builders. A company cannot trade as another company – eg. Joe Bloggs Construction Limited t/a Bloggs Limited.
Why must you register?
The system of business name registration allows other people to find out who runs the business. This is not a problem if a business is run under a person’s own name or under a company name, which can be searched against in the CRO. But if an assumed name is used, how is a customer or supplier to know what legal entity is behind the business? The question often arises as follows: who do I sue?
The requirements of the Registration of Business Names Act 1963 are often not observed and, it would seem, enforcement is not a priority. The equivalent legislation in the UK was repealed in 1982 and business name registrations are no longer possible there.
What a business name is not
- A form of company. You might register a business name with the CRO, but this is not incorporation. The registration merely puts on public record that the registrant carries on business using the registered name.
- A trade mark. A registered business name is not a form of intellectual property and it offers no exclusive right to use the name registered. It is not a trade mark, registered or otherwise. In fact, duplicate entries are often found in the register of business names. By contrast, a particular trade mark can only be registered once.
Letting people know
If a business uses a registered business name, all business letters, circulars and catalogues on or in which the business name appears must contain the following information in legible form:
- in the case of an individual, his/her present name, any former names, and his/her nationality, if not Irish; and
- in the case of a partnership, the present name and any former names, and the nationality, if not Irish, of all the partners in the firm.
An additional set of disclosure rules apply to Irish-registered companies, whose letters, notices, publications, order forms and websites must contain specific information.