• Myth no. 5 – Registering a company name gives you the right to use it

Over the next few weeks we’ll be debunking five common myths relating to intellectual property (IP); here is the first in the series.

Starting a new business and finding a name for your company is exciting, but probably less so is the process of registering your company name for tax and legal purposes at HMRC and Companies House.

But is registering your company name alone enough protection? What rights do you have over other companies with identical or similar names?

Looking at the process of registering a company name and then seeing what’s involved in registering a trademark might be enough persuasion for you to consider trademark protection for your valuable company name.

For setting up a private limited company certain factors must be considered (rules differ for sole traders, business partnerships).

The first step when setting up a company is choosing a name for the business.

This can’t be the same as another registered company’s name.

Use the Companies House ‘WebCheck’ service where you can search for a company by name or number.

You also need to be aware of other factors when choosing a company name such as: ‘Same as’ names: e.g. where the only difference to an existing name is punctuation or ‘Too like’ names.

You may have to change your business name if you get a complaint and Companies House agree that the name is too similar to a name that has been previously registered. Read more here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/incorporation-and-names

The Company Names Tribunal is a government body that deals with complaints where a company name is registered for the sole purpose of stopping someone else with a genuine interest from registering it, or demanding they pay them to withdraw the name. Read more here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/company-names-tribunal/about#registered-company-name

Once your company name has been approved at Companies House you will receive a registration certificate and the company name will be added to its registered list of companies.

Where do trademarks come into this?

In short, registering a name at Companies House does not necessarily provide you with the right to use that name in the UK.

A trademark is a sign that distinguishes the goods of one trader from the goods of others. Trademarks are most commonly one or more words or a logo.

Owning a trademark registration permits the owner of that trademark to prevent other parties from using identical/similar marks in respect of identical/similar goods/services (provided that when similarity is involved there is also a likelihood of confusion on the part of the relevant public).

The trademark register is entirely distinct to the companies register at Companies House. This means that although you might register a name at Companies House if your use of that name will conflict with any existing trademark registrations you might be sued for trademark infringement

To give an example, a company ABC Ltd might be trading with the registered trademark XYZ.

You might then register XYZ Ltd as a company name  (or a similar name such as XY Ltd or XZ Ltd) but if your activities are covered by the trademark registration of XYZ then you may not be able to trade with that company name without risk of being sued for trademark infringement.

It must therefore be recommended that when establishing a new company a trademark clearance search is conducted to try to determine if the name is free for use, and of course if it is free for use then you should also consider seeking your own trademark protection to safeguard your future interests.

If we can be of assistance with trademark clearance searching or seeking trademark protection, or if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.