A legal guide to securing your business name

Naming your new business might seem a simple task but as many budding entrepreneurs have discovered, the process is much more challenging than first anticipated. You may have thought up a great name, but can you use it and protect it?  

A stand-out, catchy business name is a key part of any brand. It often determines how people understand the service you provide and whether customers remember your business. These are two of the most important aspects of any successful enterprise. 

To help you with your quest to find the perfect business name, in this article we have provided detailed guidance and tips on naming your business and securing the first step in your branding.

Top Tip: Do you know the difference between a company name and a trading name? Learn what each term means, as well as the various use cases in our guide to company names vs trading names 💡

Table of contents

How to make sure your business name is available

Where do you start when naming your business? Let’s break it down into 3 basic steps:

1. If you have adopted the legal structure of a limited company, search on Companies House to see if the name is available

2.  Check if anyone else has already registered a similar business name as a trademark  

3. Purchase the domain name for your website

Check whether your business name is already registered with Companies House

If you have chosen a limited company as your legal structure, your first step in checking to see if you can register your chosen company name is to visit the Companies House website and search for your desired name within their database in order to:  

● Check the name has not already been taken by another company  

● Ensure it is not similar enough to another company name to cause confusion  

● Make sure the name is allowed by law, i.e. not offensive or otherwise restricted  

Top Tip: To save time you can use Tide’s free Company Name Check tool to check the availability of several business names at once 🙌

There is no official approval step for a company name. You are typically allowed most names unless it falls under the restricted or sensitive category, has already been taken, or is too similar to another company’s name. If it has not, you are generally free to use it. 

Start-up numbers are on the rise in the UK. New business names are being taken all the time, so it is vital you move quickly once you have selected a possible winner. The name that was available last week, may no longer be an option today. Think up an inspiring name – bounce ideas off friends and family and find a winner! 

Top Tip: Struggling to come up with ideas? Read our guide on how to name a business for our step by step process to coming up with the perfect business name ✅

Check whether your business name has been trademarked

If you are not familiar with the trademark concept, think of them as ‘source identifiers’ or ‘badges of origin’, which enable customers to recognise products as originating from your company. Customers are influenced in their buying habits by trademarks and they can also help to generate brand loyalty.

Once you have established that you can use the name, you should visit the Intellectual Property Office website to check that it has not already been trademarked, or included in a new trademark application. This is especially important if you plan to trademark your brand’s name. 

Searching for a trademark manually is both time consuming and risky. Painstaking searches must be done through multiple sources such as Google, company directories, social media platforms, app stores, and the UK and international trademark registries. Once all the relevant material is accumulated, a lengthy manual sorting and scrutinising process is required to evaluate the risk and put together a final report. Only then can you decide whether your prospective name is available and not subject to a registered trademark. 

One way to mitigate the risk of missing a result and dramatically cut the cost of a trademark clearance search is to engage a Solicitor who has access to AI and machine learning tools that can search through multiple registries and online directories within seconds.  

You can access a trademark solicitor through one of our strategic partners, LawBite. They can swiftly advise you on creating a cost-effective and accurate trademark search. 

Even if your chosen company name is not trademarked, you must ensure that the overall look and feel of the branding is not too similar to an existing brand. This is known as passing-off and may lead to claims against you. Intellectual property disputes can be extremely costly, so if you are at all unsure about trademark protection or falling foul of passing-off, then you should seek legal advice before settling on your business name.

Check the availability of domain names and social media handles

Whether your business model is based around traditional bricks and mortar, clicks and mortar, or clicks alone, a strong online presence is now a core aspect of a newly established business. A recognisable domain name is crucial to your online brand strategy as it could confuse customers if it differs from your brand name.. 

To purchase a domain name go to a reputable domain name provider such as Google Domains or 123 Reg and check to see if your chosen domain name is available. If you need to purchase it, you will need to pay an annual charge to keep the domain name and confirm your ownership. 

It is a good idea to purchase both the (.com) and (.co.uk) domains to prevent future confusion if another business tries to acquire the other one. There are other options around the domain name ending that are perfectly acceptable alternatives, so do not be disheartened if the popular (.com) and (co.uk) versions are already taken. Many reflect specific sectors, such as (.store) for retail ventures.  

If the business name you wish to use is not available as a domain name, or if the webspace around it is crowded, it may be better to go with a different business name altogether and have more options open to you. 

It’s also important to check the availability of your business name on any social media platforms you intend to use to market your business and grow your online community. As the internet becomes more crowded, domain name disputes are becoming more common. If you receive a complaint that your domain name has been registered elsewhere or is too similar to an existing name, contact a Disputes Resolution Solicitor immediately to ensure your best interests are protected.

Why business names are rejected

Legislation requires the Registrar of Companies to reject a business name if: 

  • Its use would, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, constitute a criminal offence  
  • It is offensive, in the opinion of the Secretary of State  
  • It is “the same as another name appearing in the registrar’s index of company names” (unless the company to be registered forms or is to form part of the same group as the company whose name is already registered) 

Certain company names require the permission of the Secretary of State and if applicable, other relevant authorities. These include instances where the prospective name: 

You may have to change your company name if, following registration, a complaint is made on the grounds that: 

  • The name is ‘too like’ an existing name on the index 
  • At the time of registration, you supplied false or misleading information to support the use of a sensitive word or expression 

  • The name gives such a misleading suggestion of the company’s activities, it is likely to cause harm to the public 
  • The company no longer justifies omitting ‘Limited’ from the end of its name (see below) 
  • The name is the same as a name associated with the complainant in which they have goodwill, or it is sufficiently similar and is likely to mislead by suggesting a connection between the company and the applicant. This is known as ‘opportunistic registration’

Under the Companies Act 1996, the name of a public limited company must end with the words “public limited company” or p.l.c (or the Welsh equivalents). The names of private limited companies must end in limited or ltd. (or the Welsh equivalents) unless they are exempt.  

Exempt companies are: 

  • Charitable companies  
  • Companies limited by guarantee whose objects are the promotion or regulation of commerce, art, science, education, religion, charity or any profession and anything incidental or conducive to those objects, provided
    • Its income is used for promoting its objects; 
    • No dividends or capital are paid to its members; and 
    • If the company is wound up, all the assets are to be transferred to another body which has similar objects or which promotes a charity and anything incidental or conducive to those ends. 

If your company’s name is rejected or challenged you will benefit from the advice of an experienced Company Law Solicitor. They can advise you on your options, including defending a complaint in the Company Names Tribunal, and ensure the long term interests of your business are protected.

The Company Names Tribunal

The Company Names Tribunal decides on disputes concerning applications (complaints) made under sections 69(1)(a) and (b) of the Companies Act 2006 which reads: 

Objection to company’s registered name 

(1) A person (“the applicant”) may object to a company’s registered name on the ground— 

(a) that it is the same as a name associated with the applicant in which he has goodwill, or 

(b) that it is sufficiently similar to such a name that its use in the United Kingdom would be likely to mislead by suggesting a connection between the company and the applicant. 

Cases are decided by an Adjudicator, however, you can opt to use Alternative Disputes Resolution methods such as mediation to resolve the dispute before the matter goes before the Tribunal. If you receive a notice that a person or company has applied to have your company name registration changed and you wish to file a defence, you must send in Form CNA2, a counterstatement and the appropriate fee by the date specified in the notice; otherwise, the Adjudicator is likely to order you to change your company name registration. If you fail to change the name by the date specified, the Adjudicator may determine a new name on your behalf.

Where to go for additional help

If you have any queries or concerns, you should seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer. The average SME faces 8 legal issues every year, so having a great lawyer in your corner makes sense.  

Tide has teamed up with LawBite, the leading online legal platform, to provide easier access to expert help that is faster and cheaper, commonly 50% of the cost of comparable high-street lawyers. They even offer a free legal fitness health check so you can check how prepared your business is in only minutes.

All the legal work is based on fixed price quotes, so no nasty surprises down the line! 

Tide members get a free 15-minute consultation from one of the friendly lawyers at LawBite, and also receive extra discounts (10% for Tide Members and 20% for Tide Plus members) of legal advice on any commercial or corporate legal advice your business needs from LawBite. 

Wrapping up

Choosing the right name for a business is one of the most important decisions a business owner will make. To save time and money ensure you:

  1. Research the reasons why company names are rejected and check none of those reasons apply to your application. 
  2. Check your chosen business name is not already registered with Companies House or trademarked. 
  3. Check that the name can be freely used as part of your website domain name. 
  4. If you receive a complaint about your business name get advice from an experienced Company Law Solicitor. 

Is your start-up destined to be the next Uber, Virgin or Amazon? Each of the founders of these businesses worked hard from the outset to register and protect their brand name. 

Taking the time to get your business name right from the outset is a key part of setting your venture up for success.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov, published on Pexels

Clive Rich

Clive Rich

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