Regulations for Operating Online
In many countries it’s a simple process of thinking about a business name, and then registering that name with the relevant authorities so you can start trading.
Regardless of your business type, there are a number of acts, awards, rules and regulations that are imposed on businesses by local, state and national government bodies that you will need to consider when setting up your online business such as:
- Business name
- Trademarks, copyright and patents
- Privacy and spam
- Electronic transactions.
Let’s unpack some of these considerations a little further.
You’ve got the idea, now what are you going to call your business? Before you get started, make sure that the business name you are thinking of has not already been registered.
Have you considered the URL that will be attached to the business name? Is the URL available, or do you need to select a different name for your business? When starting your business, it is a good idea to have a URL as close as possible to the business name.
Business name searches can be usually be undertaken via your government website. For example:
- In Australia, business name searches can be carried out via the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC)
- In the UK business name searches can be carried out via GOV.UK
- In the United States it is the US Small Business Administration website that will link you off to the various state agencies.
Links for the above websites are provided in the See Also section.
If you are uncertain or want more detailed information as to how to check for available business registrations and what is required, seek assistance from a registered accountant, legal firm or the government body in your country.
Trademarks, copyright and patents
Have you selected a brand name that you want to use for your collection of products? Perhaps at a later date you are thinking of trademarking your business name?
Always check before starting that the brand name and the company name are available for trademark. There would be nothing worse than building a business and a few years later someone comes forward to claim you are infringing their trademark.
Trademark searches, along with copyright and patent searches can be conducted via the government body that protects intellectual property in your country. For example:
- In Australia, it is governed by IP Australia
- In the UK it is governed by GOV.UK
- In the United States it is governed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Links for the above websites are provided in the Related links section below.
Privacy and spam
As you will be doing business online, it is also likely you will be collecting data on visitors to your website, as well as customers who register to receive newsletters, promotional literature, or purchase from your business.
In a data driven world, it is important to behave in an ethical manner if you want to develop strong customer relationships. The adage of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” applies when maintaining good relationships with your customers. Meaning, just because you can collect the information doesn’t mean that you should do it without good reason and respect for privacy.
For good customer service, and to meet global business practices, it is important that you abide by the regulations of the country in which the customer resides. For example, if doing business in Australia, but you are based in the US, you must abide by the Privacy and Spam Acts in Australia when communicating or developing your relationship with the customer.
Be aware of privacy and spam regulations not only in your own country, but also in any overseas locations that your customers may reside. This will put you in the best position to develop strong and profitable relationships with your customers and potential customers.
In most countries, there is no distinction in law between electronic transactions online, and cash or card transactions at a bricks and mortar store. So make sure you are aware of the legislation in relation to transactions that are made on your website. Consider areas such as returns policies, legislation around consumption taxes (VAT, GST etc), keeping of customer records, and other aspects of electronic transactions.
Legislation applicable to electronic transactions often applies only to the country where the product or service website is located. However, with the increasing number of customers purchasing globally, the expectations of customers are often driven by what they have experienced as their local consumer protection legislation. So even if it strictly is not enforceable or does not apply to you because your business is situated in a different country, you still may want to be aware of the legislation and cater as best you can in the interest of building good customer relationships.
Think about a website you purchased from in the last month.
Consider one of the above areas (business name, trademark, privacy or spam, electronic transactions) and share your thoughts on what legislation they needed to take into account when doing business with you in your country.
Identify where they may have found the information relating to this area.
© RMIT University 2017