New Regulations – Company Names – A Relaxation? Or a Threat?

New Regulations – Company Names – A Relaxation? Or a Threat To Your Business?

At the end of January 2015 new regulations came into force relating to the naming of Companies in England and Wales.

If you have a Limited Company you will view the name of your Company as a very valuable asset of your business. For most businesses, the Company name together perhaps with a logo is the essential brand which is being marketed to your customers.

The name of, for example Marks & Spencers plc is an iconic British name and brand but most people probably do not know that the Company is registered as Marks and Spencer plc nor would even notice the two differences.

What’s in a name? A lot of competitors as well as criminals would like the public to be confused. Enquiry on the internet reveals the registration of two short-lived companies – Sparks and Mencer Limited, and Sparks and Marks Limited. Both now dissolved

It is for this reason that any new clothing and groceries Company wishing to register its name at Companies House as Marks & Spencer plc would be refused – the name is too similar to the existing name. Companies House considers the word “and” to be the same as the symbol “&” for the purpose of name registration. I do note however that the real Company has registered several other names including M & S Limited and even Marks and Sparks Limited

For the same reason other words in Company name registration applications have for many years been disregarded by Companies House.

So if your business were named John Smith Exports Limited then a new competitor would have been unable to register the name John Smith Imports Limited.

Presumably the Company House rationale used to be that in the minds of naive and possibly careless customers a Company dealing with international trade called John Smith is at first glance the same Company whether it is called John Smith Export Limited or John Smith Import Limited.

One effect of the new regulations is that the list of disregarded names has grown shorter.
This means therefore that in the future John Smiths Exports Limited could indeed find a new Company registered John Smiths Imports Limited, no longer in breach of Company House rules.

Of course the existing Trademark and Intellectual Property Law might still protect the Owners of the longer established Company but the new Regulations mean that those Owners would be having to conduct a chase-up operation rather than have the protection of the previous prohibition upon a competitor using a “too similar” name.

Some commentators are suggesting that Companies should give consideration to registering new Company names for themselves – as in the Marks and Spencer example above – in the same way that many Companies have registered alternative internet domain names to preclude opportunist competition.

Perhaps all Company Directors should at least have a look at the Regulatory changes and review the situation with their advisers.

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