legal name trade name brand name trademark

Legal Name vs Trade Name vs Brand Name vs Trademark

Legal Name vs Trade Name vs Brand Name vs Trademark

Legal name, trade name, brand name, trademark, what are the differences? When would you need to use each and why? This article explores this topic to help you better understand your company needs.


what is a company's legal name?


What is a Legal Name?

When you set up a company, you have to choose a legal name for registration at the Companies Registry. The main purpose of a legal name is to make the company identifiable among others registered in Hong Kong. It is not a trademark, but you can opt to register it as a trademark, more on this further below.

Your chosen legal name must be unique, i.e. it shouldn’t already appear in the Companies Registry, and the whole word “Limited” must appear at the end. You can find a complete overview of registration requirements here. The legal name can be regarded as the company’s official name for government communications, formal business agreements, and the like.

Legal Name at a Glance

      • Definition: The official legally registered name a company uses to identify itself.

      • Registration requirements?: Yes. The legal name and any changes to it should be registered/reported at the Companies Registry.

      • Case uses: Communications with government and formal business agreements.


What is a Trade Name?

Generally speaking, a trade name (sometimes known as a business name) is a simpler name a company uses for its daily business purposes, advertising, and sales.

A trade name can be similar to a company’s legal name, or it can even be completely different. At the same time, a company can have as many trade names as it wants. Essentially a trade name is like a company’s nickname; it gives a company flexibility in how it presents itself to customers, business partners, etc.

Registering a trade name can also allow a company to use a preferred name it wasn’t able to register because it was already registered or was just too similar to an existing name appearing in the Companies Registry.

If you have a Hong Kong company and want to use a trade name, you can consider applying for a branch Business Registration Certificate (BRC) at the Inland Revenue Department (IRD). The branch BRC will show both the company’s name and related trade name.

Technically, any name a company uses that does not follow its exact legal name is a trade name. But, in some cases, registration might not really be necessary. The examples below should help to make it clearer when registration is or is not so needed:

  • Scenario 1: Trade name is the company’s legal name without “Limited” (e.g. Legal name = “INCUBEE Limited”, trade name = “iNCUBEE”). Special registration is not really needed in this case as there is a clear link between the two. Although, you can still choose to register if you want.

  • Scenario 2: Trade name is entirely different from the legal name (e.g. Legal name = “INCUBEE Limited”, trade name = “LCCS”). In this case, the company should definitely consider applying for a branch registration certificate (branch BRC). By applying for a branch BRC, the company will have proof that the trade name relates to itself, i.e. a legal entity that has the right to operate.

Regarding linking a trade name with a legal entity- this is necessary if you want to receive payments addressed to your trade name on the bank account opened with your company’s legal name. If this is your case, the bank will ask you for a copy of your branch BRC with your trade name so that payments to this trade name can be accepted by the bank as they may identify that it relates to the same company.

Last but not least, note that applying for a branch BRC does not give any protection for the use of a trade name. To legally limit the use of your trade name by another entity, you will need to register it as a trademark.

Trade Name at a Glance

      • Definition: A name used by a company other than its legal name to identify its business.

      • Registration requirements?: Not mandatory, but advisable to apply for a branch BRC at the IRD.

      • Case uses: For operating a business with a different name under an existing company.

What is a Brand Name?

what is a brand name?

A brand name normally refers to a name applied by a company to a specific product or service. In some cases, a company may treat its trade names as brand names to provide different products and services.

The purpose of a brand name is to help customers differentiate between one product or service from another. Many companies manage several brands at the same time. For example, you can buy a can of Sprite or Fanta, which are both brands of The Coca Cola Company. In the previous example, all the brands are related to the same type of product, i.e. soft drinks but in some cases, you can have one company with different types of products held under different brand names, such as Procter & Gamble owning Pampers and OralB.

Keep in mind to restrict the use of a brand name, trademark registration is once again required.

Brand Name at a Glance

      • Definition: A name used to identify a specific offering of a company.

      • Registration requirements?: No specific registration is required, but trademark registration is recommended for protection purposes.

      • Case uses: Assign different brand names to products and services for customers to quickly identify the same.


What is a Trademark?

trademark registration

A trademark is a legally registered word, phrase, logo, design, or combination of these elements that exclusively distinguish a company’s products and services from others.

Registering a trademark is not mandatory, so why register a trademark? Registered trademarks are assets, which can be owned, while unregistered trademarks are not assets. It is also easier to protect your rights over a registered trademark.

So practically, for example, you may want to consider registering a trademark if you want to restrict the use of your company’s tag line, logo, design, etc., from being used by others to protect the company’s overall brand and image. While it’s also a good idea to register a trademark to protect your company from legal action should any dispute arise regarding the use of any elements of your brand.

When a trademark registration has yet to begin or is under process, a company can use the TM symbol to indicate their intention or ongoing application for a trademark. The TM symbol doesn’t have any legal value as such, but it gives an impression of a more formal usage of a specific name, logo, etc. On the other hand, once a trademark is fully registered, the ® symbol is used- and can only be used by the company or individual who has registered that specific trademark. Do also bear in mind the ® symbol should also only be used in places where the trademark has been registered; using this symbol with an unregistered trademark is a criminal offence.

There is no worldwide registration system for trademarks, so a company should register in each specific region, country and/or group of countries where it wants the trademark to be protected. So, if you intend to register in many places, it is advisable to use a trademark specialist. 

Trademark at a Glance

    • Definition: A legally registered word, phrase, logo, design, or combination of these elements representing a company’s products and services.

    • Registration requirements?: No specific registration is required, but trademark registration is recommended for protection purposes. If you wish to do so, you may arrange registration in each region, country and/or group of countries where protection of the trademark is preferred.

    • Case uses: Wherever a company wants to protect its brand elements.



Businesses will typically use most if not all the above at some point or another in their lifetime. Now you know the purpose and role each play in a business, you can choose how to use them to your benefit as and when needed.

Have questions? Or need help registering your company, trade name or trademark?

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