The word ‘Company’ is an amalgamation of the Latin word ‘Com’ meaning “with or together” and ‘Pains’ meaning “bread”. Originally, it referred to a group of persons who took their meals together. A company is nothing but a group of persons who have come together or who have contributed money for some common person and who have incorporated themselves into a distinct legal entity in the form of a company for that purpose. Under Halsbury’s Laws of England, the term “company” has been defined as a collection of many individuals united into one body under special domination, having perpetual succession under an artificial form and vested by the policies of law with the capacity of acting in several respect as an individual, particularly for taking and granting of property, for contracting obligation and for suing and being sued, for enjoying privileges and immunities in common and exercising a variety of political rights, more or less extensive, according to the design of its institution or the powers upon it, either at the time of its creation or at any subsequent period of its existence. However, the Supreme Court of India has held in the case of State Trading Corporation of India v/s CTO that a company cannot have the status of a citizen under the Constitution of India.

A company as an entity has several distinct features which together make it a unique organization. The following are the defining characteristics of a company:-

Separate Legal Entity :
On incorporation under law, a company becomes a separate legal entity as compared to its members. The company is different and distinct from its members in law. It has its own name and its own seal, its assets and liabilities are separate and distinct from those of its members. It is capable of owning property, incurring debt, borrowing money, having a bank account, employing people, entering into contracts and suing and being sued separately.

Limited Liability :
The liability of the members of the company is limited to contribution to the assets of the company upto the face value of shares held by him. A member is liable to pay only the uncalled money due on shares held by him when called upon to pay and nothing more, even if liabilities of the company far exceeds its assets. On the other hand, partners of a partnership firm have unlimited liability i.e. if the assets of the firm are not adequate to pay the liabilities of the firm, the creditors can force the partners to make good the deficit from their personal assets. This cannot be done in case of a company once the members have paid all their dues towards the shares held by them in the company.

Perpetual Succession:
A company does not die or cease to exist unless it is specifically wound up or the task for which it was formed has been completed. Membership of a company may keep on changing from time to time but that does not affect life of the company. Death or insolvency of member does not affect the existence of the company.

Separate Property:
A company is a distinct legal entity. The company’s property is its own. A member cannot claim to be owner of the company’s property during the existence of the company.

Transferability of Shares:
Shares in a company are freely transferable, subject to certain conditions, such that no share-holder is permanently or necessarily wedded to a company. When a member transfers his shares to another person, the transferee steps into the shoes of the transferor and acquires all the rights of the transferor in respect of those shares.

Common Seal:
A company is a artificial person and does not have a physical presence. Therefore, it acts through its Board of Directors for carrying out its activities and entering into various agreements. Such contracts must be under the seal of the company. The common seal is the official signature of the company. The name of the company must be engraved on the common seal. Any document not bearing the seal of the company may not be accepted as authentic.

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