Facts About Stealing Business Names You Need To Know
It is no small feat to open and run a business in the UK. You put all that work into creating an identity. You spent weeks and months building credibility and fostering a client base. Now, what is to stop someone else from swooping in and stealing your business name as their own?
Trademarking is how you legally claim the business name you have built as yours. These specific processes allow you to protect your business and reserve your name and brand. You need to register a trademark and take the appropriate steps if you find your business name being used by someone else.
If you want to avoid lawsuits, protect your business, and safeguard your reputation, you need to understand the importance of trademarks and the theft of business names. Stealing a business name is no joke! Keep reading for the facts you need about stealing business names.
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What Do You Need to Know about Stealing Business Names?
When building your brand identity, one of the first things you do is create a business name to house that identity. Your business name choice will tell your customers, and the public in general, precisely what goods or services you are selling. It will be the vehicle that your business uses to drive its reputation.
For someone else to come in and use this name as their own, they are doing two things; using the sweat equity, you put into the business as their own and taking customers away from you through deception.
Stealing your business name allows another company to take advantage of your reputation and marketing efforts. It also can significantly confuse customers, even stealing your customers away from you. Basically, everything you laboured to build is a stake if you let someone else steal your name.
This is also why you should be particularly careful when choosing a name for your new business. You do not want to do this to someone else, and you certainly do not want to deal with a lawsuit!
Is Stealing a Business Name a Real Threat?
Some businesses can rely on their geographical location’s limited reach to prevent name confusion. As long as no other similar business within a specific geographical vicinity uses their name, the likelihood of confused customers and damage is not severe.
However, as the world becomes more digital, the threat of business name theft becomes more prominent. Now you should be concerned about businesses in your geographical vicinity and businesses online that may confuse and steal your customers by taking your name.
In today’s world, protecting your business name from theft is more important than ever. As more people shop online, you need to ensure that your hard-earned customers are not being deceived.
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The Importance of Trademarks
By registering your business name as a trademark, you can prevent theft. Trademarking will provide you with protection under the law from competitors using your likeness.
This will prevent your clientele from getting misrepresented products or services like yours or being confused about what you offer. This could mean that they are getting an inferior product, further muddying up your name and reputation. This is called Trademark Infringement, and it is against the law.
The business world takes trademark infringement very seriously. Check out these examples to see just how important trademarks genuinely are.
Examples of Trademark Infringement Suits
Protecting your business name is important. You want to protect what you own. Here are a few interesting cases of companies that engaged in battles to protect their business name against a perceived threat:
- In 1968 the Beatles founded Apple Corps, which expanded to Apple Electronics, Apple Films, and Apple Music. In 1978 they filed and won a suit of trademark infringement against Apple Computer, now known as Apple Inc.
- Frank Industries, a small UK company, successfully sued Nike for trademark infringement. Frank had a trademark LDNR under clothing and sportswear. When Nike released a campaign that was using the initials LDNR, Frank’s customers were misled. They thought that he was in collaboration with Nike.
- A small business called “Zara Countrywear” was served 40 pages of legal documents from the Global Retail brand Zara. They threatened to sue the small shop and asked them to cease using and destroy anything under or bearing the name Zara. They decided to make the changes and avoid the lawsuit.
- Perhaps one of the oldest trademark infringement cases is the word "ULFBEHRT" inscribed on 170 Viking swords dating all the way back to the 9th century.
- A woman who has the middle name of 'Skywalker' applied for a passport and was rejected because her name infringed a LucasArts trademark: Luke Skywalker of the Starwars series.
- More from Apple Inc. Did you know Cisco actually released the first iPhone? It was released 22 days before Apple Inc introduced its iPhone. Cisco sued Apple Inc., and they settled out of court, with both companies agreeing to use the name iPhone.
Though these examples may seem funny or even like something you needn’t worry about, trademark infringement is a serious thing. The average cost of trademark infringement litigation is very expensive, between £90,000 and £540,000, and can take many years to conclude.
It could easily put your business in danger of closure due to the high expense, especially if you are just starting out. Not to mention it will take up a lot of time that you could be devoted to doing things to grow your business.
It may take a few months, but taking the time to research and register your business name can prevent you from a whole lot of hassle.
What Can You Register as a Trademarked Business Name?
To trademark your business name, it has to fit into certain perimeters. You put a lot of thought into your unique business name. It can be any combination of words, colours, sounds, signs, or logos that are not being used by anyone else.
You should first do an online search to make sure your desired name isn’t already being used. You can do this by doing a quick search on the GOV.UK site. It is also a good idea to check the Trademarks Journal for intellectual property rights on your chosen name.
Several things can cause your trademark application to be rejected. When creating a business name, you must avoid ones that are the following:
- Purely descriptive in nature: For example, you cannot trademark “Shoes” if you are selling shoes or “Shirt” if you are selling shirts. You will want to try to be a little more creative anyway.
- Likewise, your business name cannot simply be a picture or the shape of what you are selling: like the shape of a shoe if you sell shoes or a hat if you sell hats.
- It cannot be misleading. You cannot make claims about the origins or attributes of your product that are untrue. Any allusions to “all-natural”, “organic”, or claims of purity must be able to be proven and upheld.
- You cannot trademark obscenities of any kind. Keep it clean. No curse words or pornography allowed. However, double entendre seems to be acceptable if you must.
- Don’t attempt to trademark a symbol if it looks like a flag or hallmark of a state or country. It won’t be approved. If you are unsure if your business name fits this criterion, check World Intellectual Property Organization guidelines to make sure.
- It can’t be too general. Don’t try to trademark something as simple as “We Help You”. Truly no one would understand what your service or product is if they see this as a business name anyway. It wouldn’t serve your business well.
How Do You Apply for a Trademark in the UK?
Before you start registering your trademark, be sure to check that your business name is sound. To eliminate the possibility of your application being rejected, double-check to make sure it excludes every one of the prohibited rules and do your research and verify that it is available and not being used by anyone else.
Once you have created a business name that fits into the perimeters for trademarking and perfectly fits the image and brand you want to convey to your customer, you are ready to apply for a trademark and make it yours alone.
Know the Class of Trademark You Need
A trademark class refers to what type of good or service your business offers. The class designation prevents businesses in different sectors and with varying audiences from clashing over trademark infringement. There are currently 45 different trademark classes in the UK.
Make sure you research and make some business projections prior to application! If you apply for a trademark under the wrong class, your trademark won’t be fully protected. A trademark is good for ten years, so it is best to think ahead and try to include any classes you may expand into during that time frame.
You cannot add a class or make any changes to a trademark once it is filed and completed. It is much less expensive to include the correct class and any that you may use than to take on the time and expense to repeatedly file new applications.
Apply to Register Your Trademark
Once you’re confident your business name is solid, and you know what class to properly file for, you can submit the application at GOV.UK. The fees for filing and adding additional classes can be found there, along with paper forms if you wish to apply by post.
Once your application has been made, it will be published in the trademarks journal. You will have to wait two months to make sure there is no opposition to your proposed trademark.
This may seem like a long time to wait, but you don’t want to be up and running and have to rebrand completely with a new business name because you accidentally chose one that was already being used. It happens.
Do You Have to Register Your Business Name as a Trademark?
It is not required in the UK to register your business name for a trademark. There is some protection under Common Law available to a business that discovers its name or likeness is being used without permission.
However, in such cases, the burden of proof as to the offence’s extent lies on you as a business owner. You must demonstrate the extent and scope of the geographical location to which your name’s usage applies. Plus, you will have to prove the damages this other entity is causing you. You will need to prove the following:
- You were indeed using the name first. You will have to show how long you have been in business, in addition to showing the scope of your business. If you are operating in one small village, how is someone quite far away to know about it?
- The business name and the one you are accusing of theft are being used for the same business type. Even if the name is the same, the context in which they are used may allow for very little confusion. You will lose the case if you try to litigate with a company that has a wildly different product and audience.
- The other business is causing you damage. You would have to prove that there is confusion regarding the two separate businesses and that it is, in fact, causing you to lose revenue. What is the actual damage of one business on the other, and is it measurable?
Differences between Registered and Unregistered Business Names
The differences between registered and unregistered trademarks are easy to see when you compare them side by side.
|Symbol used after a business name||®||™|
|Governed by||Trade Mark Act, 1994||Common-Law|
|Validity||Prima Facie; trademark validity accepted until proved otherwise||The owner must prove the validity of the trademark|
|Burden of Proof||The responsibility lies on the opponent at first||The responsibility lies with the owner|
|Location||The business name is protected countrywide||The owner has to prove the area in which their business name is relevant|
Maintaining Your Business Name
Unfortunately, registering your business name once is not enough to guarantee that it will not be stolen. New businesses are starting all the time, and you will need to ensure that your business identity is protected.
Monitoring for Infringements
You will want to monitor your business name for an infringement.Even though you may have properly filed for a trademark, the registrar’s office does nothing to monitor usage. That is now your responsibility.
It may be easier for you to hire a service to do this for you. Many trademark lawyers offer this service, as well as monitoring for new applications that you may want to oppose.
Having a law firm available for this is valuable because they can help you quickly address any cases that may arise and maintain control of your brand identity and trademark.
Renewing Your Trademark
You will also have to periodically renew your ownership of your trademarked business name after 10 years. If you are no longer actively using the name, it will expire after 5 years.
You need to start the renewal process at least six months prior to expiration due to the time it takes for completion. If you fail to get this done, it could mean that your trademark ownership is under threat of cancellation. It’s worth the effort to make sure to be aware of your renewal dates and review the process for changes well in advance.
What Do I Do If I Find Another Business Using My Name?
If you find that someone else is using your business name, you may want to consult with a trademark lawyer before taking any legal action. It may be the case that a simple cease and desist letter will stop the infringement in its tracks.
Depending on whether or not you have registered your business name will help determine what your next steps will be. A business name that has been registered and trademarked will most likely have a stronger case in court than an unregistered one. Consulting a lawyer will help you decide if legal action is appropriate and practical.
Having your business name stolen is something you don’t want to face! It is most certainly something you do not want to be accused of as it can become very expensive and time-consuming.
Although it is not required in the UK, to protect yourself and protect the business you worked so hard to create, you should look into trademarking your name and hiring a trademark or intellectual property law firm to monitor your newly registered and trademarked business name. Keep the business you built yours and yours alone.
- Apply to register a trade mark: After you apply - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Defend your intellectual property - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Difference Between Registered and Unregistered Trademark (with Steps for Registration and Comparison Chart)- Key Differences