What's in a name? Protecting your business identity

In today’s difficult trading conditions, a strong business identity is vital – and your name is one of the foundations on which that identity is built.

A name is amongst your business’s most important assets. It says a huge amount about you. A good name will give an instant sense of what it is the business does, who it is aiming to reach, and what potential customers can expect. A good name can therefore help to ensure that you secure the custom that you deserve – while a bad one can instantly turn potential customers off.

Your name is also inextricably linked to your business’s reputation. All the goodwill that you accumulate is associated with your name. It is therefore vital that you take steps to protect it.

How do I find out if a business name is available?

If you are yet to decide on a name for your business, your first step should be to check on availability. You can do this through the Companies House WebCheck service. This free online tool allows you to search for a company by name or by company number. If your chosen name is already registered, you will need to think again.

It is important to remember that WebCheck only provides details of businesses that have been registered with Companies House. Names of unincorporated businesses will not be included in the results.

Incorporating your business at Companies House will give you some degree of protection, as it will prevent others incorporating another business with the same name. But there are other, potentially more effective steps that you might also consider taking.

If your name is used to distinguish the products or services that you sell, you may want to think about registering it as a trade mark. You automatically receive a degree of protection against trade mark infringement without registering, but it can be very difficult to enforce this. Registration is relatively simple, and can be carried out through the Intellectual Property Office. You will need to show that the trade mark is distinctive to the products or services in question, and that it (or a similar trade mark) have not been registered already.

What about online?

It is also important that you take steps to protect your business name in the digital sphere. Online identity is increasingly important to firms of every size, and you need to ensure that you secure yours.

At the very least you should register the relevant domain names for your business. You can do this for around £10 per domain. Most registration services also enable you to check whether your desired domain name is available. You should consider registering the relevant names in both .co.uk and .com domains.

Social media is another increasingly important concern. You should make sure that you secure your profile on a range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. Even if you do not plan to use these sites immediately, by registering the relevant names you can ensure that you have the option to do so later on – and that no one else can use your name on those platforms.

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