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Choosing your business name

What's in a name, you might ask? The answer is, an awful lot. Read these tips for choosing and protecting your business name.

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What's in a name? The answer is, an awful lot. Heinz might not be the company it is today had it launched ‘Pre-cooked haricot beans in a sweet tomato sauce', and sales for ‘Fermented hop juice' would probably be slow, too.

In short, the importance of finding, registering and protecting a good name cannot be overstated.

1. Be distinctive

Descriptive names are difficult to protect and expensive to enforce against others. If you choose a name that describes your goods, or the nature of your business, you may find that you can do very little to stop your competitors from using similar names. It is best to choose a name that stands out from the crowd. This will help to identify your business or products and distinguish them from those of your competitors.

2. Make sure your name is free to use

Many businesses decide on a product name or business without first checking to see if anyone else is using it or if it has been registered as a trade mark.

Simply registering a name at Companies House or acquiring a domain name does not actually give you any rights to use that name and, by doing so, you may infringe someone else's prior rights to use that business name.

For instance, a quick search on the Internet reveals that you could buy today for under a tenner, but there is a fair chance you would face a challenge if you started posting news on the site.

You should carry out some availability searches before you decide on a new name (domain name availability can be checked in a number of places). It is cheaper – and less embarrassing – to change a proposed name before you launch your new product or business rather than afterwards.

3. Protect your investment

The best way to protect your new name is to register it as a trade mark. The process is fairly quick and cost effective. Registered trade marks are much easier and often cheaper to enforce than unregistered marks.

In particular, you do not need to show that you have a reputation or any goodwill in your trade mark, or that you have suffered any loss to be able to enforce it against others.

4. Act quickly

Trade marks are registered on a ‘first past the post' basis, so the sooner you apply to register your name the better. There is nothing to stop you making an application well ahead of launching your new name and ensuring that the protection is already in place when you start trading.

If you do not bother to register your name as a trade mark, someone else may beat you to it and may be able to stop you from using it, or seriously limit the extent to which you can develop your brand.

5. Keep an eye out

You should always respond immediately to any infringement of your name. Failure to do so may limit the remedies available to you and devalue your name. You can set up watching services to identify application for trade marks that may be similar to your name or made by your competitors, enabling you to respond quickly to any activity that may dilute your brand.