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A company is a legal entity made up of an association of people, be they natural, legal, or a mixture of both, for carrying on a commercial or industrial enterprise. Company members share a common purpose and unite in order to focus their various talents and organize their collectively available skills or resources to achieve specific, declared goals. Companies take various forms such as:
- Voluntary associations which may include nonprofit organization
- A group of soldiers
- Business entities with an aim of gaining a profit
- Financial entities and banks
A company or association of persons can be created at law as legal person so that the company in itself can accept limited liability for civil responsibility and taxation incurred as members perform (or fail) to discharge their duty within the publicly declared "birth certificate" or published policy.
Because companies are legal persons, they also may associate and register themselves as companies – often known as a corporate group. When the company closes it may need a "death certificate" to avoid further legal obligations.
Meanings and definitions
A company can be defined as an "artificial person", invisible, intangible, created by or under law, with a discrete legal personality, perpetual succession, and a common seal. It is not affected by the death, insanity, or insolvency of an individual member.
The English word company has its origins in the Old French military term compaignie (first recorded in 1150), meaning a "body of soldiers", and originally from the Late Latin word companio "companion, one who eats bread [pane] with you", first attested in the Lex Salica as a calque of the Germanic expression *gahlaibo (literally, "with bread"), related to Old High German galeipo "companion" and Gothic gahlaiba "messmate". By 1303, the word referred to trade guilds. Usage of company to mean "business association" was first recorded in 1553, and the abbreviation "co." dates from 1769.
- Private companies limited by guarantee
- Companies without share capital (often non-profit entities)
- Private companies limited by shares - the most common form of company
- Public limited companies - companies, usually large, which are permitted to (but do not have to) offer their shares to the public, for example on a stock exchange
In the United States, 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". In the US, a company is not necessarily a corporation.
- 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 guarantee may be with or without having share capital.
- 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 and many English-speaking countries. A company limited by shares may be a
- 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 the UK, 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. LLC structure has been called "hybrid" in that it "combines the characteristics of a corporation and of a partnership or sole proprietorship". Like a corporation, it has limited liability for members of the company, and like a partnership it has "flow-through taxation to the members" and must be "dissolved upon the death or bankruptcy of a member".
- An unlimited company with or without a share capital. A hybrid entity, a company where the liability of members or shareholders for the debts (if any) of the company are not limited. In this case doctrine of veil of incorporation does not apply.
Less common 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 fulfill 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.
In legal parlance, the owners of a company are normally referred to as the "members". In a company limited or unlimited by shares (formed or incorporated with a share capital), 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 stock exchange which imposes listing requirements/Listing Rules as to the issued shares, the trading of shares and future issue of shares to help bolster the reputation of the exchange or particular market of an 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.
A parent company is a company that owns enough voting stock in another firm to control management and operations by influencing or electing its board of directors; the second company being deemed as a subsidiary of the parent company. The definition of a parent company differs by jurisdiction, with the definition normally being defined by way of laws dealing with companies in that jurisdiction.
- Corporate personhood
- List of company registers
- List of largest employers
- Lists of companies – company-related list articles on Wikipedia
- Types of business entity
- Harper, Douglas. "company". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- Companies Act 2006, Section 1
- Black's Law and lee Dictionary. Second Pocket Edition. Bryan A. Garner, editor. West. 2001.
- "Company legal definition of company". TheFreeDictionary.com.
- Companies Act 2006
- root. "Limited Liability Company (LLC) Definition - Investopedia". Investopedia.
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