Trademarking a business name in the UK: What you need to know

Making a good first impression is as crucial in the business world as in any other part of life, which is why the quality of your brand name cannot be understated. A memorable, striking brand name is the first impression that all potential customers will get of your organisation, so this choice could determine if these relationships continue, and whether you’ll make or lose sales.

Coming up with the perfect name isn’t easy, and it will probably take plenty of trial and error before you land on one you’re happy with. Once you believe you have something sure to make a splash in the marketplace, you might want to consider legally protecting it. This is where trademarking comes in.

What does it mean to trademark a business name?

A trademark is a type of intellectual property that identifies you as the sole owner of your products or services. Registering your business name as a trademark will subsequently let you apply it to all your goods and business activities, cementing the name as a symbol of your company’s reputation. As a result, no other enterprises will be able to use it without opening themselves up to legal action. This is very important for branding purposes as a trademark ensures that your brand name is legally attributed to your business, and your business alone.

How does this differ from a registered company name?

When setting up a limited company, you need to register your chosen name with Companies House. This prohibits any identical, similar, or offensive names from being registered in the future. However, this identifier is entirely different from a trading name—the one presented to the public, which is typically more marketable. For example, if you’re a sole trader working under the name “Bob’s Best Builders”, you’ll probably want to keep this once you go limited in order to avoid confusing existing customers. Luckily, even if you’re unable to register that name with Companies House, you’re free to choose an alternative company name. but still continue running your business under the trade name Bob’s Best Builders.

Unlike registered company names, trading names aren’t protected, which means multiple businesses can operate under the same one. That’s why you will see so many different “Red Lion” pubs around the UK, for example. However, if you want to ensure that your organisation is the only one with your chosen name, you will need to trademark it. What do I need to consider before trademarking my business name?

Is the name available?

Of course, you can only use and trademark a business name if it hasn’t been trademarked already. Before committing to your desired name, check the national trademark register to make sure it doesn’t already exist. It’s possible the same name will be registered under a classification that differs from your business’s sector or trade description. If it’s the same, however, you won’t be able to use it without written permission from the owner.

Is the name appropriate for my business?

The perfect business name will be catchy, memorable and communicate the heart of your brand, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve chosen the right one before trademarking. Keep it simple and future-proof—major corporations like Nike, Apple and McDonald’s all have names which are easy to pronounce and spell, and generic enough that they don’t limit the companies to single, specific directions. As well as being unique, your business name must not be offensive or misleading in terms of your products or services.

Can I get a website address for this business name?

Unfortunately, trademarking doesn’t mean you will automatically be entitled to the accompanying web address as well. Imagine how galling it would be to have exclusive access to the perfect business name, only to discover that you can’t use it as your domain name.

You need a domain to create a website, which is the address your customers will type in to find you online—Coca-Cola’s UK domain is coca-cola.co.uk. Nobody else can use a domain once it’s been taken, leaving you stuck with an inferior alternative if yours is gone. For example, if your trade name is “Angel Cakes” you would be unable to use the angelcakes.co.uk domain, because it’s already in use. And if you’re forced to settle for something like theangelcakes.co.uk instead, this inconsistent branding may confuse customers, make it harder for you to be found online, and look very unprofessional.

Hosting providers can let you know whether your desired domain is available, while a resource like Novanym’s business name generator can kit you out with a great trade name and web address all in one. Not only does this tool provide you with a selection of catchy, brandable business names to choose from, but each also comes with an already-available .com domain to use.

How does trademarking impact my brand?

Trademarking your business name can make a huge difference to your branding strategy. First and foremost, it gives you a clear and exclusive identity in the marketplace, differentiating your company from your competitors. The name you operate under is at the heart of your brand identity, which is why many companies will change their name when they decide to undergo a rebrand, as Michael Kors and Weight Watchers did in 2018.

However, as your name is so integral to your brand, it could be disastrous if a rival company decides to trademark yours before you do. One of the most famous examples of this is the feud between the World Wrestling Federation and the World Wildlife Fund—whose names are both colloquially shortened to WWF. The latter had registered the initials as a trademark in 1961, and the wrestling league ultimately had to pay millions to switch to World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE. As this case shows, it could cost you a fortune to rename and rebrand if another company later claims you’re infringing its trademark.

How do I trademark my business name?

  • Make sure you’re 100% committed to the name, as you won’t be able to change the trademark after application. All fees are also non-refundable.
  • Apply through GOV.UK with details of the business name you intend to register and the trademark classes, which place all goods and services in distinct categories.
  • Pay £170 to process a standard online application and an extra £50 per additional class. You could select the Right Start service if you want to ensure your application is suitable for registration before proceeding. This requires an up-front fee of £100, and an extra £25 per additional class. You will pay this again if you go ahead with the application, while three or more marks will cost an additional £50 each.
  • Wait for feedback, which you should receive within 20 days. Any further issues must be resolved in the next two months.
  • If your application is successful, it will be published in the trademarks journal, providing a two month window in which anyone can oppose it. If there are any objections, you can either withdraw your application, contact the person responsible for making the complaint, or defend your application. The latter may require you to pay legal costs.
  • Once any objections have been dealt with, you’ll receive a certificate confirming your trademark. This lasts for 10 years, and you will have to renew it after this time.

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