Legal Issues for Startups

Legal Issues for Startups

Legal Issues for Startups

The key is to identify the legal issues that put your startup business at risk of irreparable destruction or overwhelming cost, and deal with those issues first.


What impacts your startup business most will depend on where you are, and where you want to get to in the immediate future. Prioritise, don’t try and do everything at once.

Someone with an idea they want to develop with have different concerns to someone with a prototype looking for investors, which will be different issues to someone who has an MVP, investors and is looking to build their team.

At Onyx Legal we’ve designed a curriculum for start-ups covering –

MODULE 1 for Startups – Developing an idea

This is all about protecting and valuing your intellectual property (IP).

Too many startups have great ideas and start developing them without understanding how to secure their IP. If you can’t show serious investors that you own the IP, you won’t get investment. Simple as that.

Can you image Microsoft paying $26b for LinkedIn if LinkedIn didn’t own the IP behind their systems? Probably not.

Understanding this legal topic can also help you identify the best tools and strategies for developing your business using other people’s IP.

MODULE 2 for Startups – Business structures

Your business structure is either going to give potential lender’s and investors confidence, or have them running for the hills. What your accountant might recommend for tax minimisation might not be the best structure for attracting an investor. So consider where you want to take your startup and what makes sense for you.

Understanding this legal topic will help you identify structures for investment, growth and diversification. We aim to give you the confidence to really ask questions of your advisers about what is best for your startup and challenge their recommendations to ensure you don’t waste heaps of time or money.

Trust structures might work really well for property investment, but might not be ideal for a tech startup.

MODULE 3 for Startups – Building a team

When you are bootstrapping an enterprise you might not have the ability to pay yourself, let alone anyone else. This legal topic will help you identify options for bringing new skills in to the team without losing your shirt.

Learn about the legal opportunities and pitfalls for employment, employee incentive schemes, sharing equity, contracting, outsourcing and joint ventures.

MODULE 4 for Startups – Protecting your business

Australia is a great part of the world, but probably not always the easiest place in the world to do business. There are loads of rules and you need to have an understanding of what is relevant to your startup or risk having it shut down as soon as you go out and start interacting with customers. There are easy steps you can take to protect your business if you know what questions to ask and where to find the answers.

Risk management is not a scary topic and it isn’t nearly as hard as many risk management systems try to make it. We can help you to work out the key areas of your business that need attention and how to measure and manage that effectively.

Insurance is only one part of risk management and not always the saving grace that some people expect.

MODULE 5 for Startups – Sales and Marketing

What you promise to your customers is no joke, and Apple recently found that out when the ACCC went after them for misleading representations about consumer guarantees. The ACCC can impose fines over $1m on company’s that don’t comply with consumer laws. It’s important to know how your startup will deal with customer enquiries and complaints to avoid having to deal with regulators like the ACCC.

Each module can be delivered as a fast and full on 60 min information only session, webinar (heads up) or a 120 min interactive workshop. Feedback has been that people get more practical understanding from the workshops, but we understand there may be time constraints.

If there was one other thing you’d like to know more about, what would it be? 

Advanced workshops include:

  • A practical guide to copyright, protecting yours and managing cease and desist letters – 90 min
  • What, when, why and how to apply for a trade mark – 60 min
  • Understanding property leases – 60 min

How can Onyx Legal help you?

If you’re starting out on your own, have a team or are even part of an accelerator program and interested in getting some plain English legal training, please use our contact form to make a booking or book an appointment here. We like to start by arranging a chat to work out what fits best for your organisation.

Best Business Structure for Online Business

Best Business Structure for Online Business

Best Business Structure for Online Business

Starting your online business

Starting your online business can be very exciting. One of the many things to think about is your business structure. It’s a great idea to think about these points to help you decide which structure best suits your needs.

  • why you are setting up your business
  • where the money is coming from
  • your long term goals for the business
  • the advantages and disadvantages of different business structures

Common business structures in Australia

It doesn’t matter where you are in the country now, the rules around your business structure will be very consistent across all the states and territories of Australia. The four most common business structures used by small businesses in Australia are:

Sole trader: You operate as the sole person legally responsible for all aspects of the business. As a sole trader you can still employ other people to help you run your business.

Company: A company is not you, it is a separate legal entity owned by its shareholders.

Partnership: Partnerships are formed by agreement rather than registration and are an association of people or entities running a business together. It is different to registering as a company.

Trust: A trust is usually formed by a Deed, but can be ‘bare’ or not documented. There are different laws that apply depending on where you are. The trust holds property or income for the benefit of others and is managed by a trustee.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: A registered business name, or even an unregistered trading name, is not a business structure. It is just a name. That business name might be used by you as a sole trader, your company, a trust you have set up, or a partnership. It is not a legal entity and provides no protection or separation between the person or entity that registers the business name, and the liabilities of the business.

Different Considerations for Business Structures

Things to think about before choosing a business structure for your online business include:

  • Are you making any money yet?
  • Cost to set up and maintain.
  • Do you have personal assets you’d like to protect and keep separate from business liabilities?
  • Are you looking for income sharing opportunities?
  • Do you want to attract outside investors into your business?
  • Would you like to be able to sell all or part of the business in the future?
  • Tax and other duties.
  • Are there future potential tax savings that could affect your choice?
  • The reporting and compliance obligations of the business structure you choose.

Different people have different priorities, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to choosing your business structure. For example, if you are not making any money, your risk is likely to be low and it will be easier to operate as a sole trader. Once you are making more money than you can afford to lose, you might consider setting up a trust or a company to operate your business.


Is it better to get my accountant or my lawyer to help me set up my business structure?

In every profession there are people with different levels of skills and experience, so it really depends upon the qualifications and experience of your advisers. Some accountants are great in their area, and some lawyers are too. Know what your goals are and ask your adviser how they can best help you to achieve your goals.

Don’t be afraid to ask if a proposed structure can be simpler! I’ve seen business structures that might have made sense at the time, but become burdensome later on and are impossible to unravel without huge cost.

Can I register a business name if I am a sole trader?

Yes! As a sole trader you can chose to operate under your own name with an ABN, like “Jeanette Jifkins, Solicitor” or you can chose to operate using a business name, like “Onyx Online Law”. You can register the business name against your sole trader ABN and then use that name in your small business. If you do use a business name, you need to register it.

Why should I register a business name for my online business?

It is an offence to operate a business under a trading name (other than your own name) if it is not registered. You can be fined up to around $5,400. You will need an ABN (Australian Business Number) before you can register a business name. Who ever has registered the ABN will be the person or entity behind the business name.

Business name registration is now managed by ASIC. You will need to set up an ASIC Connect account and login before you will be able to find a link to register a business name.

Is my domain name the same as my business name?

Your domain name might be your business name, and it might not. Probably the easiest way to work this out is to think about what name will be on the invoices you business issues. If the name on your invoices is the same as the domain name, then it will also be your business name. You will still need to register your business name, or establish a company with that name, even it is the same as your domain name.

If I have registered a domain name, do I have to register a business name?

Yes. Domain name registration has nothing to do with business name registration. You register a domain name with a domain registrar. You register a business name with ASIC.

Do I have to register my business name if it is the same as my company name?

No. Once you register a company name, no one will be able to register the same business name and you don’t need to register the same name as a business name. They might still be able to register a similar name by adding something like (Australia) to the name.

How do I find out if I can register my business name?

If you are worried about similar business or company names that are already registered, try reserving a company name through ASIC (it costs about $44). When you reserve the name it will be checked and you will be told whether or not you can have it, or if you need to pick another name.

What does ATF mean?

ATF means ‘as trustee for’ and is used when you name the trustee of a trust. The trustee is the legal ‘face’ of the trust. You can have a person or a company as trustee. In legal contracts and on financial documents you will need to use the full legal name of the trust. For example – Small Business Pty Ltd aff Online Business Ventures Trust.

You might also have registered a business name, in which case the full legal title of your online business might be – Small Business Pty Ltd aff Online Business Ventures Trust trading as Software Kings.

Do I have to write ‘trading as’ or ‘t/as’ on my website?

‘t/as’ means ‘trading as’. You do not have to put the full legal name of your business on your website. Provided you have a registered business name and an ABN, that is all you need to use. So from the example above, instead of writing Small Business Pty Ltd aff Online Business Ventures Trust trading as Software Kings ABN 00 123 456 789 you can simply put Software Kings ABN 00 123 456 789 on your website.

It is a lot simpler to simply use your trading name and ABN than your full legal name and avoids the problem of messing it up. People who don’t understand their business structure will sometimes mix up what entity is ‘trading as’ and which one is a trustee.

Can I register more than one business name to my company?

Yes you can. If you want to operate a variety of sub-divisions or small business units within your company, you simply register a business name for each unit using your company ABN. You can then trade with the different trading names, but each trading name will have the same ABN.

Can a trustee company run a business?

When you establish a company for the purpose of being a corporate trustee, that should be the company’s sole purpose. If you also want to trade through a company, you should establish a separate company to do that.

As a corporate trustee, a company is responsible for managing the business or assets of the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries of that trust. The trustee does not own the trust property, and the trustee can be changed.

How can Onyx Legal help you?

if you would like one of our team to help you make sense of your current business structure, or set up a business structure to suit your needs.

What Happens when Someone Claims Copyright Infringement Overseas?

What Happens when Someone Claims Copyright Infringement Overseas?

What Happens when Someone Claims Copyright Infringement Overseas?

Where in the world can you take action for copyright infringement?

The topic for today is copyright.

Our client has received a letter of demand from Germany.

Now, you are not obliged to go to the courts somewhere else in the world if on your website you have terms and conditions that say the governing law is Australia, or if on your piece of material it says the governing law is Australia. Copyright laws are similar internationally in line with treaties, but are limited by country if you want to take legal action. If you specify the governing law you are in a position to argue that an action started somewhere else in the world is outside its jurisdiction.

So in our client’s case, the dispute is in regard to a book cover. The inside cover states that the governing law is Australia, it’s published by an Australian company and the artist involved is based in Germany.

We have told the German lawyer, “If you want to take action against our client, come here to Australia and take action here.”  Because even if there is a decision in Germany, they can’t enforce it against our client in Germany because the client has no property there. That means they can’t make our client pay unless they come here to Australia and execute against the client’s property here in Australia. So they have an uphill battle in front of them.

When you’re being pursued by someone from overseas for a copyright issue, remember it’s going to be hard for them to get money out of you if they’re in another country. 

How can Onyx Legal help you?

If you are worried that someone is infringing your rights under copyright law, or you receive a letter alleging that you are infringing copyright law, make an appointment so that we can help you chart a way forward.