Davina Farinola, WA Street Team Etsy Leader shares her experience...
Head over to http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au for some useful information.
A trade mark is used to distinguish the goods and services of one trader from those of another. It's needed if you are getting serious - not usually done before your initial set up - so you may tick along for years before you think "Hey I'm doing ok - it would be a real bummer if another craft business set up and started using part of my name!”.
For example my registered and trade marked name is Fluid Ink. Now if another letterpress company decided to call themselves ‘Fluid Letterpress’, or even ‘Ink Letterpress’, ‘Fluid Graphic Design’ or ‘Ink Graphic Design’ then I have the right to investigate whether they can trade as that, and I can place an ‘opposition’ investigation if I wish to.
Its also useful to search the national Trade Mark database to make sure that if in the future you are considering making you name a trade mark, that name will be available: http://pericles.ipaustralia.gov.au/atmoss/Falcon.Search_Screen
If your proposed name is available and you don't think there will be much conflict, then your business name is a winner. You can apply for an ABN, register your business name, buy a domain name, and trade away!
BUSINESS NAME CONFLICTS
Trade marks are grouped into classes so if you name yourself ‘Fluffiness’ and you make pillows, and there is another company called ‘Fluffies’, and they make nappies, then you are in different classes and there will more than likely not be too much conflict.
I myself have had legal, wordy, mean letters telling me to cease and desist from trading as Fluid Ink, as an other company named "Fluid Something" (an advertising agency) was submitting their own trademark and they saw me as impinging on their trademark. It freaked me out. I was a little one-gal operation and their lawyers sent out scary official letters to change my business name.
I was advised by the Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC) not to worry, indeed, IP Australia said that these letters were par for course of many companies; they are just a standard thing that gets posted out during a new application for a trade mark (you can pay companies to file a TM for you, and this is the kind of stuff you pay for when you pay a company to handle on your behalf).
APPLY FOR A TRADE MARK
To applying for a trade mark can get expensive (starting at $500 - my total bill was $1500 all up!) To apply go to http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au/ You can poke around, get acquainted, start the application and make it pretty much to the end before you have to pay the initial registration fee which is rather helpful!
You can ask for help from IP Australia, pay for a TM Head start (pre-application service) or just dig in and go for it. There is a trade mark application fee $120 per 'class' (I’m listed in 3 'classes' or industry areas - so that cost $360 just to apply).
Don’t forget you could be rejected at this stage - after you have paid an application fee which is why searching the name first, and knowing the relevant 'class' for your business is a good thing to do before forking out!)
Once you ‘pass’ the examination stage (e.g. after an examination period of a few weeks/months, it is decided you aren't in conflict with any one else), then you pay your registration fee ($300 per class). At this stage, the trade mark is advertised, and others have 2 months to ‘oppose’ it. After the 2 months, if it’s all good, you are free to use that neat little ‘R’ logo or ‘TM’ logo after your name! :)
NEED MORE INFORMATION?
If you need help. I’d recommend going and visiting the SBDC (Small Business Development Corporation). There are local branches everywhere. They are awesome. These is heaps of info on their websites and their service is FREE! You get to talk to a human expert - just call and set up an appointment. They are great for any small business problem and run regular courses on all sorts of interesting useful topics including business names: http://www.smallbusiness.wa.gov.au/small-business-development-corporation-home-page/
DISCLAIMER: Don't forget to do your own research - This is Davina's unique experience and is by no means exhaustive coverage - every business is different, that's why if need a little extra help, seek out the experts!