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Choosing a Brand Name – How to Avoid Expensive Mistakes

by Keith Loven

We’ve had a number of trademark enquiries lately along the lines of “I’ve registered the company at Companies House and I’ve bought the domains and I wondered about getting a trademark”, followed by “Why are you telling me there’s a problem?”. Or worse, “I’ve just received this..”. The problem is usually (a) that someone else has already registered the same or similar trademark, or (b) that the name is not a trademark, just a product or service description.

When choosing a new business name, most people’s first thought is to choose a name that tells the potential customer what they do or what they sell, or something close to that. But that isn’t really a trademark – it’s a product or service description and you cannot expect to obtain exclusive rights to it.

New clients often say “The name was available at Companies House, so we went for it”, thinking that this gives some protection. Unfortunately, this is not the case. A careful look at companies on the Companies House register will show that there are often a number of companies with very similar names that are not related.

The point about a trademark is that it should serve as a unique signpost to the particular business. The closer the name is to other businesses’ names or to describing what the products or services are, the less useful the signpost is. A good trademark will be memorable and stand out from the crowd. It’s no good choosing a signpost that might point to your competitors as much as it points to you.

So when choosing a name for your products or services, follow these steps:

  1. Draw up a list of names – try to choose memorable catchy names that preferably have nothing to do with what you sell;
  2. For each name on your shortlist, do a search at ipo.gov.uk for registrations of the same or similar word for the products or services you propose to sell (or similar). In assessing “similar”, try to think about how you would feel if the earlier name were yours and someone else was seeking to use and register the mark. If you find any conflicts, cross that name off your list;
  3. For the remaining names on your list do a search on Google for businesses using the same or similar names in the same or similar areas of business. Again, eliminate from your list any obvious conflicts;
  4. If that has wiped out your entire list, don’t despair, you’ve learnt something valuable here that you can feed back into the brainstorming session you need to create list number 2;
  5. When you have your final shortlist, ask a Chartered Trademark Attorney to advise on it to help you make your final choice;
  6. Then think about registering the trademark – your attorney can handle that for you – and then company registration and domain names.

One final point – domain names don’t have to reflect your registered trademark, at least not in the short term. People will probably not be looking for your brand name to start with, so a generic domain name might help them find you. Once they know your brand, including it in your domain names will be more important.

Contact Tim Fray for help with your shortlist.

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