Thursday, April 30, 2009


Generally, a company is a form of business organization. The precise definition varies.

In the United States, a company is a corporation—or, less commonly, an association, partnership, or union—that carries on an industrial enterprise." Generally, a company may be a "corporation, partnership, association, joint-stock company, trust, fund, or organized group of persons, whether incorporated or not, and (in an official capacity) any receiver, trustee in bankruptcy, or similar official, or liquidating agent, for any of the foregoing."


There are various types of company that can be formed in different jurisdictions, but the most common forms of company (generally formed by registration under applicable companies legislation) are:

A company limited by guarantee. Commonly used where companies are formed for non-commercial purposes, such as clubs or charities. The members guarantee the payment of certain (usually nominal) amounts if the company goes into insolvent liquidation, but otherwise they have no economic rights in relation to the company. This type of company is common in England.

A company limited by shares. The most common form of company used for business ventures. Specifically, a limited company is a "company in which the liability of each shareholder is limited to the amount individually invested" with corporations being "the most common example of a limited company." This type of company is common in England.

A company limited by guarantee with a share capital. A hybrid entity, usually used where the company is formed for non-commercial purposes, but the activities of the company are partly funded by investors who expect a return. This type of company may no longer be formed in theUK, although provisions still exist in law for them to exist.

A limited-liability company. "A company—statutorily authorized in certain states—that is characterized by limited liability, management by members or managers, and limitations on ownership transfer", i.e., L.L.C.

An unlimited liability company. A company where the liability of members for the debts of the company are unlimited. Today these are only seen in rare and unusual circumstances.

Less commonly seen types of companies are:

Companies formed by letters patent. Most corporations by letters patent are corporations sole and not companies as the term is commonly understood today.

charter corporations. Before the passing of modern companies legislation, these were the only types of companies. Now they are relatively rare, except for very old companies that still survive (of which there are still many, particularly many British banks), or modern societies that fulfil a quasi regulatory function (for example, the Bank of England is a corporation formed by a modern charter).

Statutory Companies. Relatively rare today, certain companies have been formed by a private statute passed in the relevant jurisdiction.

Note that "Ltd after the company's name signifies limited, and PLC (public limited company) indicates that its shares are widely held."

In legal parlance, the owners of a company are normally referred to as the "members". In a company limited by shares, this will be the shareholders. In a company limited by guarantee, this will be the guarantors. Some offshore jurisdictions have created special forms of offshore company in a bid to attract business for their jurisdictions. Examples include "segregated portfolio companies" and restricted purpose companies.

There are however, many, many sub-categories of types of company that can be formed in various jurisdictions in the world.

Companies are also sometimes distinguished for legal and regulatory purposes between public companies and private companies. Public companies are companies whose shares can be publicly traded, often (although not always) on a regulated stock exchange. Private companies do not have publicly traded shares, and often contain restrictions on transfers of shares. In some jurisdictions, private companies have maximum numbers of shareholders.