How To Search A Business Name In Ontario
You’ve come up with a name for your business, asked friends and family for feedback, Googled endlessly to see if anyone is using it and tried more combinations of domain names than you care to remember, but how do you know if you can use the name for your business? How do you know if it’s already registered and using it would infringe on someone else’s protected name? How do you search a business name?
In this post, we’ll discuss the various business name searches available in Ontario and outline the steps needed for your business structure so you can register your business name with confidence.
In Ontario, there are 2 main business search types:
1. Enhanced Business Name Search
The Enhanced Business Name Search, is the most basic Ministry search available in Ontario and only covers Sole Proprietorships, General Partnerships, and Operating Names registered in Ontario. For this reason we don’t recommend the enhanced business name search when registering a business.
When searching a business name you want to make sure that your business name is not infringing on any trademarks or protecting names. Since the enhanced business name search only covers a limited group of business structures in Ontario there may be corporations or trademarks registered which have name rights to the name you are about to register. Using only the Enhanced Business Name Search could leave you susceptible to legal actions causing you to change your business name down the road, or worse. This is why we recommend a more thorough search when registering a business.
Don’t get me wrong the Enhanced Business Name Search is certainly valuable and has its place for business searches. In fact, it is a great way to find out information on an existing Sole Proprietorship, General Partnership, or Operating Name.
When you complete an Enhanced Business Name Search for an existing Ontario Sole Proprietorship, General Partnership, or Operating Name you will be able to find registrant information and the registered address for the business.
Now that we’ve established that the Enhanced Business Name Search is great when searching for information on existing registrations for specific Ontario business structure types, what do we use to search a business name for registration? The answer is NUANS.
The NUANS database is the most comprehensive registration database available in Canada. It not only covers registrations for Sole Proprietorships, General Partnerships, and Operating Names, but also covers Corporations and Trademarks.
If you are registering a business name we recommend completing some form of NUANS search. Since NUANS covers such a broad range of registrations it is excellent for due diligence and helping to ensure that your business name is not in conflict with an existing protected registration.
In fact, a NUANS Preliminary Search can be done for free! Not only saving you money, when compared to an Enhanced Business Name Search, but is also more thorough.
As a side note, if you want to verify that a business is registered in Canada the NUANS Preliminary Search is a great way to check this out. From the preliminary search results you’ll be able to determine the business structure type of the business you’re searching for and in this way you can know which documents you need to find out more about this business.
Which Search Should I Use?
Now that we’ve talked about the various search types, here are the searches you should use based on the type of business structure you are registering.
(If you are not familiar with the various business structures make sure to take a look at our blog post on Ontario business structures)
Sole Proprietorship, General Partnership, or Operating Name Registration
When registering an Ontario Sole Proprietorship, General Partnership, or Operating Name you will want to complete a Free NUANS Preliminary Search. This will show you if anyone has already registered the business name in Canada.
If you really want to be thorough, or think you might incorporate the business, you can also get a NUANS Name Reservation Report, but this is not required.
Once you’ve determined the name is available for registration the next step would be to simply register the business name and get your Master Business Licence.
Please note while we don’t recommend the Enhanced Business Name Search for registrations, if you are registering the business in person at a Service Ontario location they may require that you complete it.
To register an Ontario Corporation you will need to get an Ontario NUANS Name Reservation Report. This is the official name search document required to register a named corporation in Ontario. The report also reserves the name for you to register, subject to Ministry approval, for 90 days and gives you a 9-digit reservation number.
However, before paying for the NUANS Name Reservation Report we always recommend checking the name for free with a NUANS Preliminary Search, as this can save you the expense of having to order multiple reports. If everything looks good on the preliminary search then you can go ahead with the NUANS Name Reservation Report.
While both search types are valuable, an Enhanced Business name search is better suited for looking up an existing Sole Proprietorship, General Partnership, or Operating Name, but if you are registering a business name you’ll want to make sure you use some form of NUANS Search.
Here are the searches to use when registering:
To register an Ontario Sole Proprietorship, General Partnership, or Operating Name:
Use a Free NUANS Preliminary Search
When registering an Ontario Corporation:
Use a Free NUANS Preliminary Search to make sure the name is not currently registered
If the Pre-Search is clear, get the required Ontario NUANS Name Reservation Report