Friday, 28 June 2019

Protecting Your Company Name - Including Opportunistic Registration

Opportunistic Registration Definition -

Is the term applied to a company, which registers a name, which is the same as an existing name in which another person has goodwill; or if a name is so similar the public are unable to distinguish between one name and another.

Choosing the right company name is an important decision and can beneficial in a number of ways.
For marketing purposes having a company name containing the main keywords for your business products and services will assist search engines and help your listing's performance on Page One.
Your company name will then be connected to every business application from the internet, admin, accounting, advertising, marketing, licencing and registers etc etc.

Over time your business will hopefully grow and develop to become successful and achieve your aims.

Competitors will be constantly looking for opportunities to attract customers. Most will respect their revivals and adopt standard accepted practices to market their company.
However, occasionally a company will act in a way which is directly intended to negatively affect another company. This may be bad practice, at least, to illegal at most.

For larger companies protection appears to be easier. Being a registered limited company restricts others registering the same name. Having the funds of a larger company suggests easier access to legal advise and associated proceedings.
Larger companies, with higher disposable funds, can employ website builders to promote and market products and services and protect their clients company name and website prominence.

If, like me, you are a Sole Trader with no requirement to register as a limited company at Companies House, are you vulnerable to competitors copying your company name?

Using my theory to choose a good company name I called my business Southampton Chauffeur Hire. Search engine key words will attract the right customers. Southampton is biggest populated city in Hampshire with one of the busiest, if not, the busiest cruise port in the UK.

Trading since 2012 I established my company and gained the respect of local businesses and colleagues within the same service provider sector. During this time no other competitor used the words Southampton and Chauffeur in a company name. My company name of Southampton Chauffeur Hire remained distinctly separate from others in the area.

Keeping up to date with website performance and maintenance is paramount to keeping internet activity fresh, relevant and accurate. Indeed, a website that has laid dormant and untouched for months will be adversely affected.
Searching for competitors changing tactics for marketing can keep you prepared and ready to act, if needed.

During a routine search of the internet I found that my company name, Southampton Chauffeur Hire, had been registered as a limited company at Companies House.
A local competitor's details could be seen as the Director (according to the public records).
This other company was well established with it's own current company name and associated marketing.

As a Sole Trader I could not appeal to Companies House unless my company was registered as a limited company with a company name that conflicts.

Copyright does not appear to be applicable other than for content (websites, publications etc.).

To register a Trademark a company name can not contain a description of what the business does. Hence keywords are not accepted.

Intellectual Property is an area that could be explored.

Fortunately I received advise from Companies House that I may pursue a claim of Opportunistic Registration via The Company Names Tribunal, being a part of the Intellectual Property Office.
If the CNT upholds a complaint the Company Name Adjudicator may issue an order requiring the company in question to change it's name. If the company fails to comply by voluntarily changing it's name the Adjudicator may give notice to the Registrar of Companies to change the name of the company to the company number, so that it's name becomes it's number.

Going onto the Company Names Tribunal site will help with more information.

I considered I had a very strong irrefutable case. 7 years of trading with every aspect associated with Southampton Chauffeur Hire should be without risk of having my application rejected.

My first contact with the offending company was to send a strongly worded letter threatening legal action should the name remain unchanged. This was sent via Recorded Delivery and signed for. It was addressed to the registered address of the company using Southampton Chauffeur Hire. 15 working days was given for the appropriate action to be taken. 

During the second working week I found that the company name had been voluntarily changed which negated the need for any further action.

I feel strongly that, should the warning letter be ignored, I would have been successful in winning a case at the Company Names Tribunal with all costs paid by the offending company.

My company identity is certainly stronger with a positive outcome and experience gained.

I hope my shared experience has been a help should other companies be affected in the same way.