The rules of the name game

Your business name can get your ahead or get you in trouble. Here are the tips and traps. PAUL WALLBANK

Paul Wallbank Tech Talk blog

By Paul Wallbank

I’d barely finished last week’s blog entry on how important it was for entrepreneurs to protect their business names when I had a coffee with an acquaintance looking at starting up his own computer support business.

This acquaintance, who I’ll call Tom, got me cranky when he told me his proposed trading name included the word “nerd”.

I have a particular problem with the words “geek” or “nerd” in IT industry business names as I think it’s a cutey-pie term that devalues the skills and hard work involved in running a viable support operation.

Once I’d got over my initial irritation, it dawned on me that name was similar to an existing computer business.

It turned out Tom hadn’t checked the name. In the IT industry, this is incredibly common. Over the years PC Rescue has had to deal with five businesses using the name and infringing its trademark.

One was particularly irritating as not only were they incompetent but they operated in Melbourne when we were only operating on Sydney’s North Shore at the time. It wasn’t unusual to receive abusive phone calls from irritated customers in Victoria who only got more upset as I tried to explain it wasn’t one of my guys as we were all sunning ourselves on Manly Beach and not driving around Footscray blowing up people’s servers.

If people confuse you with a competitor or a brand of shampoo, which happened to another support business I know of, then you’ll lose customers and have difficulty finding buyers for your business. In my opinion this is a far bigger problem than the not inconsiderable legal trouble you can find yourself in.

So if you’re setting up a new business, spend an hour on the net before you start printing out the business cards. Here’s some sites you should visit.

  1. Do a general search. Open a few different search engines, type the name in and see what comes back. Keep in mind a negative result doesn’t mean someone isn’t using that name as not all businesses have an online presence.
  2. Fire up the Yellow Pages. I like the Yellow Pages Online as you can leave the state blank and it will list all the matching names across the nation. Remember though not all businesses are listed in the Yellow Pages.
  3. Follow up with a White Pages search. This will pick up many of the business not listed in the Yellow version. Again though, not all business names have a phone number attached.
  4. Search the ASIC database. At the Australian Securities and Investments Commission website you can search all company and state registered business names.
  5. Check the trademark isn’t taken. IP Australia has a comprehensive online search tool that’s a bit intimidating at first but is effective when you get the hang of it.

Doing all of this won’t fully eliminate the risk of upsetting someone else, but it’s a good start. It certainly reduces the chances of wasting a lot of money and time renaming a new business.

While I haven’t convinced Tom that putting “nerd” in his business name isn’t a good idea, I’ve at least saved him a few cranky solicitor’s letters and mysterious phone calls from strangers claiming he’s blown up their computer.


Paul Wallbank is Australia’s most heard computer commentator with his regular computer advice spots on ABC Radio. He’s written five computer books and just finished the latest Australian adaptation of Internet for Dummies. Paul founded and built up a national IT support company, PC Rescue and has a free help website at IT Queries. Today he spends most of his time consulting and advising community and business groups on getting the most from their technology.

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