Choosing and Protecting Your Business Name

Choosing and Protecting Your Business Name

How to select a new name, and how to stop others using it.

By Marcia Smith

Choosing a new business name

You can easily check whether a company name has been taken by a public or private limited company, or an LLC, by using the free online search tool on the Companies House website.

As mentioned above, if a preferred company name is already on the Companies House register, you’ll have to choose another. However, if you believe that you’re the rightful owner of a company name and another person has maliciously registered your name in bad faith, you could submit a claim at the Company Names Tribunal.

Some business names are not registered with Companies House: specifically, those used by sole traders and general (non-limited) partnerships. In this case, you can normally use the same name. However, if you copy their branding or cause confusion amongst customers, you could get sued.

Another check you will need to make is with the UK Trade Mark Register, which you’ll find on the website of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). A trade mark gives the owner exclusive rights nationwide. That means that if your chosen company name is the same or similar to a registered trade mark – even if it’s a completely different industry or a different part of the country – you won’t be allowed to use it.

There are plenty of legal advisers that can help you through the process – but your first stop for information should be official UK government websites.

You don't need copyright to protect a business name

In short, no. Copyright law applies to original creative work, but does not protect business names.

To protect a name, registering with Companies House as a public or private limited company or an LLC will mean that no one else can register using the same name. Your business name or brand name could also benefit from trademark protection.

Additionally, to prevent someone from using an internet domain, register it yourself. You may have to register a number of variants, such as .com and .org. Type your preferred website address into your browser to see if it’s active, or use an online look-up tool such as Who.is to find the name and address of its owner. If it’s important to you, you could make them an offer.

In all cases, if a competing company uses your name in a way that misleads customers, you will be able take legal action against them.