The name of your trading business can be one of the most valuable assets you have. It allows customers to find you in an often crowded marketplace, distinguishing you from the rest, allowing you to build and develop your brand and trading identity.
But rather than have a completely free choice of name, there are strict rules and guidelines about the type of name you can adopt. We have prepared the following helpful FAQ to help you navigate requirements and avoid a costly mistake.
No business is allowed to adopt an offensive name, and should not use one which infringes established intellectual property rights such as registered trademarks. After that, the more specific rules depend on your chosen business structure. The rules for sole traders or general partnerships are more relaxed, whereas Companies House has a strict set of guidelines for limited companies.
The name of a limited company must not be the same as an existing name. Minor differences such as variations in punctuation, and the additions of commonly used words and characters for other companies such as “(UK)” would count as being “same as” unless the companies are already linked.
There are certain “sensitive” words which must be avoided. For example, this would include anything which suggests a link with a government department, public sector organisation, or local authority.
Many other words cannot be used, such as “Institute”, “Federation”, or “Chartered” without prior approval.
Yes, quite a few more in fact. Certain words require pre-approval if they imply an affiliation with a certain profession. They are only permitted for use if you are able to prove your membership of that profession.
In some cases, separate legislation would protect the use of names. For example, there are many names associated with the Olympics which are protected.
Certainly as far as Companies House is concerned that is true. But company law is separate from the laws surrounding the intellectual property, and the registration of a company name does not automatically mean that you can stop someone using a name which is a registered trademark. So it would be worth checking the trademarks register to see if there are any possible overlaps.
If you then wish to protect your company name by registering it as a trademark, then you need to consider the relevant trademark rules. Certainly, there is no automatic trademark registration entitlement simply because it has been accepted by Companies House.
Broadly, to be capable of being protected as a trademark, it must be distinctive and not descriptive of the business. This can often be hard to achieve given the obvious temptation of describing your business in the name.
Provided that your company shareholders approve, the process is fairly straightforward. But if this affects the trademark registration, a new application will be required.
Sounds complicated? For more information and advice on names and the corresponding trademark registrations. please contact our Corporate Law Department for more information – call us or email by using the form to the right. This article was written by Edward Garston, Senior Associate at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of August 2018.