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Trademarking a company: Everything you need to know

Posted by Tom West on Jan 13th, 2021 | Running a business

Crunch - Trademarking a company - A team exercise

So, you’ve come up with a great company name and you’re done registering your company. Great! That means you own the legal rights to the name, logo and slogans – and nobody else can use them… right?

Sorry, unfortunately not. Registering a company name merely means that other businesses can’t register the same (or a very similar) name at Companies House.

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Company Name vs Trading Name

Remember, your company name and trading name aren’t necessarily the same thing. Establishing your company name officially confirms your existence, but does nothing on a legal level to stop someone using your branding without permission. To stop that from happening, what you need is a registered trademark.

There are certain rules around naming your company that you must understand – we explain more in our article ‘how to come up with a great business name‘, and we also cover this in our video on setting up and registering a business.

When it comes time to form a Limited Company, one hurdle is choosing a Company name. Company names are like URLs – they have to be unique – and with over 1,000 companies formed every day in the UK, the number of available company names is decreasing rapidly.

When choosing a company name, you also have to take into account existing companies and trademarks. While Star Bucks Ltd. may be technically unique, you’d likely attract some unwanted attention from a certain Seattle-based coffee outlet, and Companies House may deny your application right off the bat for being too similar to an existing name.

Many people wonder about the difference between “Limited” and “Ltd.” – the rather dull truth is that there is no difference. The choice between suffixing your company name with “Limited”, “Ltd”, “Ltd.”, or “LTD” is purely an aesthetic one. They are just used to signify your status as a Limited Company as opposed to, for instance, a Limited Liability Partnership.

If you can only secure a vaguely-interesting company name, like “Generic Consultancy Firm GB 2021 Limited”, all is not lost. Although this will be the official name of your Limited Company, used in all formal correspondence, paperwork and Companies House and HMRC submissions, you can still operate under a Trading Name to keep your brand interesting.

So, how do you create a Trading name? Well, it’s really as simple as just dreaming one up. Obviously taking care to not infringe anyone else’s trademark, you simply invent a Trading name and use it as you wish. You need to make sure all your paperwork (invoices etc.) state your proper Limited Company name – usually in the form “Awesome Consultancy is a trading name of Generic Consultancy Firm GB 2021 Limited”.

Checking your trademark isn’t already taken

It’s inevitable that new business owners will be concerned about someone pinching their idea – but the possibility that might unknowingly be the copycat is far more pressing. Before rushing into anything, check the name you’ve come up with isn’t already trademarked by using the Intellectual Property Office (IPO)’s trademark search.

Don’t be fooled into assuming that any trademark infringement would’ve have been flagged when your registered your company. Companies House and the IPO are different departments, and (annoyingly) their databases aren’t linked.

In short, look before you leap. Just like web domains and Twitter handles, trademark availability needs to be considered before wasting any money and working hours on creating inevitably unusable business branding.

How much does trademarking a company cost?

If you’re certain that what you’re trademarking will pass the rules for registration, then the standard online trademark registration rate is £170.

You’ll also be required to pick which trademark classes (which describe the nature of your business) apply to your company. If you build guitars, for example, you won’t want a competitor building guitars and calling them your name. However, you might be less fussed if a fishmonger or hairdresser opens a store with your trademarked name.

There are 45 of these classes to choose from, and the more of them you want your trademark to apply to, the more additional costs you’ll incur. Each class you add will cost an extra £50.

If you’re not sure whether the details you’re providing adhere to the rules of registration (i.e. it can’t be offensive, misleading or too generalised), you’re best off going through the ‘Right to Start’ procedure. This costs £200 plus £50 each for any additional classes, although if your application isn’t successful, you’ll only end up paying half of this. A small consolation for having to change your branding plans, at least.

How long does trademarking a company last?

Registered trademarks last for 10 years. They can be renewed for additional 10-year periods, as long as you pay the renewal fee within six months before or following the expiration date.

Trademark, copyright, and patent – what’s the difference?

All three of these are related to the protection of intellectual property, but differ in the areas they cover:

  • Trademarks protect branding such as names, slogans, logos and symbols
  • Copyright protects the work of creative professionals such as authors, artists or architects. It doesn’t cost anything
  • Patents protect new inventions. These are the most complicated, long-winded and expensive form of protection to obtain, usually taking about five years and costing upwards of £4,000. That said, they’re worth pursuing if you have a ground-breaking technological breakthrough.

Changes to trademark law after Brexit

If your business also trades in Europe, you can currently apply for a Community Trade Mark which protects your intellectual property in all EU countries.

At the time of writing, Britain is still in the transition period after leaving the European Union, and it’s not yet clear how laws such as these will be affected by Brexit.

We’ve got a hundred’s of helpful articles in our Knowledge section, take a look around to see how else we can help you – or why not sign up for our free self-employed community – Crunch Chorus which gives you access to our jargon-free business guides as well as great offers to simplify self-employment such as our Ultimate Business Tips Guide for the self-employed.

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