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The Business Names Act of Ontario, Canada came into effect in 1991. All businesses operating out of Ontario, even those who were previously exempt from registering are now required to register their business name with the Companies and Personal Property Security Branch of the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services.

Companies that operate under the exact name of the owner (as in the case of a sole proprietorship) or the exact names of all the partners (as in the case of a partnership) are exempt from the requirement to register. For example, in Ontario Jane Almeida can operate a company called "Jane Almeida" without registering it, however, if she wants to operate as "Jane Almeida’s Small Engine Repairs" she must register that name.

The Act seeks to regulate the names of businesses operating out of Ontario. In general a business name can be anything as long as it is not misleading or offensive. For example, a sole proprietorship would not be able to register the name "John Smith and Partners" since the name would imply that the company is a partnership.

There are also a number of restricted words and acronyms that cannot be used at all in a business name. Some of these words have special meaning, while others are already in use by such groups as police and government agencies. The restricted word list is:

epplc, epllp, Air Canada, Air Canada's, Canada Standard, Canada Standard's, Co op, Co op's, Co op., Co op.'s, Co op.s, co-ops, Colline Du Parlement, Cooperative, Cooperative's, Cooperatives, Cs, Gendarmerie Royale Du Canada, Lignes Aeriennes, Trans Canada, Nations Unies, O.n.b.i.s. ,Co ops, Co-op, Co-op's, Co-op., Co-op.'s, Co-op.s, Co-ops, Epllc, Epllp, Limited Liability Company, Limited Liability Partnership, Llc, Llp, Lp, S.c., S.R.L., Société à Responsabilité Limitée, Société de Capitaux, Société de Capitaux Extralprovinciale, Société en Commandite, Onbis, O n b i s, O.n.b.i.s., O-N-B-I-S, On-bis, Onu, Parliament Hill, Parliament Hill's, Private Detective, Royal Canadian Mounted, Trans Canada Airlines, UN, United Nations, UN's, United Nations'.

Note that the restricted word list does not include any swear words or offensive slang. Such words are allowed in a business name, however the registration may be denied if the name is found to be offensive.

There is also a list of words called consent words. These words are allowed to be used in a business name, however, if they are used the application will be sent to a clearinghouse where the context of the business name will be reviewed. If the person reviewing the name approves the use of the consent word, the registration is allowed. If the reviewer doesn’t approve the use, then the government invokes its right to deny/revoke any business name registration. The consent word list contains:

amalgamated, amalgamation, ancien combattant, architect, architects, architectural, association, assurance, bank, banker, banking, banque, barrister, board, boards of trade, bureau, bureaus, bureaux, caisse populaire, chamber of commerce, chiropodist, church, club, co-operatif, co-operatifs, co-operative, co-operatives, college, colleges, comite, comites, commission, commissions, committee, committees, compagnie de fiducie, condominium, conseil, conseils, corp test, corp. test, corporation test, council, councils, credit union, dental surgeon, dental technicians, dental therapist, dentist, doctor, drugless practitioner, engineer, employees' mutual benefit, engineering, federation, fiduciefond, foundation, fonds, fraternal society, fund, funds, Geneva cross, health-m.o.h., hospital, housing, inc, inc. , incorporated, incorporation, incorporee, ingenieur, institut, insurance, institute, limited, limitee, logement, ltd, ltd., ltee, ltee., medical officer, ministries, ministry, notary public, omers, ophthalmic dispenser, optician, optometrist, organization, pharmacist, physician, prevention of cruelty to, private vocational school, protection of animals, psychologists, public accountant, red cross, registered radiological, royal, societe de fiducie, society, solicitor, surgeon, synagogue, trust, trustco, universite, university, veteran, welfare of animals.

And finally, there are a number of words that cannot be used at the end of a business name. While businesses can append the type of business to the end of their business name, the registered name of the business would not have such a suffix. For example, "Three Ring Circus Incorporated" would actually be a corporation registered as "Three Ring Circus". Here is the list of restricted final words:

Corp, Corp., Corporation, Inc, Inc., Incorporated, Limited, Limitee, Ltd, Ltd., Ltee, Ltee., Incorporee.

The rules of the Act also state that the first letter of the business name must be an alphabetical character from the Roman alphabet.

The Business Names Act does not require that a prospective business name be researched first to avoid duplication. However, if duplication (or similarity) between names does occur, the owners of the names can take legal action against each other. If damages are found in such a case, the Act does specify that a minimum of $500 be paid in compensation.

Business Names must be renewed every 5 years. The ministry will not remind business owners of this requirement, and those who fail to renew their registrations and continue to operate may find themselves in breach of the Act and subject to fines. Fines for operating without proper registration can be as much as $2000 for individuals and $25,000 for corporations.

To cost to register or renew a business name is currently $80. However, Ontario Business Connects will soon (end of 2003) make available an online application process that will only cost $60 and allow users to register for related programs such as registering with the Ontario Ministry of Finance for Retail Sales Tax and Employer Health Tax, and with the Work Place Safety and Insurance Board.

There are also a number of service providers who prospective business owners can use to search for and register a new business name. The cost of these services varies, but will obviously be more than doing it yourself.

It’s also interesting (though slightly off topic) to note that business name registrations can only be processed between 8am and 8pm. Outside of these hours the ONBIS servers that process and store the registrations are taken offline. This is done because the support staff doesn’t cover the hours outside of 8am to 8pm, and apparently the risk of something going wrong with the system is too high to allow it to run without support immediately available.

Sources:
http://www.cbs.gov.on.ca/mcbs/english/273a_3ea.htm
Working a contract at Ontario Business Connects

This mundane node brought to you by a mind numbed by boring office work

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