October 14, 2022
It's original, it's fresh, and it's succinct. You've landed on your company name and have picked something that represents you perfectly, congrats! But what happens when someone rains on your parade and uses that company name? In this article, we explain how to prevent others from using your company name, and the steps you can take to protect it. Let's start.
The best way to stop other people from using your company name (and to protect your brand generally) is to register your company name (and any other name that you are trading under) as a trade mark. This will give you the exclusive right to use that name and to pursue an infringement claim against others seeking to use your trade mark.
Any legitimate company seeking to register a new company name or create a new trading name would be very unlikely to pursue any name already registered as a trade mark. In the scenario where the company has not carried out thorough due diligence and is unaware of the existence of the trade mark, a cease and desist letter alerting them to this fact is likely to be very persuasive in encouraging them to change tact.
Simply having your company name registered at Companies House affords little protection, though it does provide you with a couple of options in terms of being able to object to another company’s use of your name.
If another company tries to register a name that is the same as, or very similar to, your company name, you may object by complaining to an adjudicator of company names.
You will need to show that you have goodwill in, or a reputation associated with, your company name. If this is the case, the adjudicator will require that the ‘new’ company choose a different name.
The company seeking to register your business name may argue that it adopted the name legitimately, or, that it is already operating under the name, or is proposing to do so and has incurred costs associated with the same. However, even if this is the case, if you can show that the company adopted the name with the primary objective of either preventing you from using it, or demanding money from you to release it, the adjudicator will require the company to choose a new name.
You could consider pursuing a claim of passing off against the other party. Passing off occurs when another party deliberately or unintentionally offers goods or services in a way that makes the customer believe they are buying your goods or services. However, this is not a particularly attractive option; litigation is always time-consuming and costly and a claim of passing off in connection with a company name would be difficult to establish without the registered company name having a significant reputation, strongly associated with your company.
Before pursuing any type of proceedings (whether with the company names adjudicator or in the courts), it is always worth considering alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation. This can often be a cheaper and more efficient option. A mediator would meet with both parties to help them reach a resolution but would not make the decision on the parties’ behalf. The outcome is not binding, and legal proceedings can still be issued if the mediation fails.
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