August 3, 2015

Choosing a name for your business – don’t forget to do the searches

Searching for a company name

I vividly remember sitting through a presentation by a branding agency helping us to choose a new name and look for a business that we were setting up.

The presentation was brilliant and very persuasive. The agency had done lots of research, including setting up a focus group to come up with a name that truly reflected the essence of the new business. The whole presentation revolved around the chosen name – brand colours that matched the name, a strapline that emphasised the name, a culture that reflected the name.

At the end of the presentation, I asked whether the agency had done the appropriate searches to check that the name was available. Silence…

So, back at my desk, I did those searches and found that the name was already being used by a potential competitor. Presentation rejected and what a waste of time.

So what were those searches?

There are four:

  1. A normal internet search. It seems obvious but it is amazing how many times start-ups fail to do this simple task.
  2. The business will need to buy the obvious domain names. And so the second search is to check the applicable domain name registers. The best search of the UK domain register database is the WHOIS tool at
  3. The business is likely to want to trade as a company. So go to the website and search for “Companies House”. Then do a search to see if a company already exists with your chosen name. If it does exist and you are desperate to use your chosen name, you can add “U.K.”, “Group” or a similar bland word in the name to allow your company to be set up (although this does not take away the risk of the existing company bringing a claim if they consider that your company is taking advantage of their existing goodwill).
  4. You must check whether another business has already registered your chosen name as a trade mark. If it has, and you start trading in the same or similar market, you are likely to receive a letter from their solicitors requiring you to change your business name. And it is likely that you will have to comply because registration of a trade mark gives the owner a monopoly right in the UK to use that name for the goods and services covered by the registration. To do the search, go to the website and search for “Intellectual Property Office”. Then use their search facility.
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