There are two main types of objection that can be made to a registered name: firstly, to one that is "too like" another name and, since 1st October 2008, to "opportunistic" registrations.
Companies House deals with "too like" registrations. They are only concerned with the visible appearance or sound of the two names. The first step in complaining about a name is to write to Companies House which will consider the merits of your objection. If, following an objection Companies House intends to direct a company to change its name it will write to the company to explain the nature of the objection and the limited scope for appeal. If the appeal is rejected, they will issue a direction requiring the company to change its name within twelve weeks.
Objections to "opportunistic" registrations can now be made through the new Company Names Adjudicator (CNA) system. You may object to a company name if either the name is the same as one in which you have goodwill, or if it is sufficiently similar to your company name that it is likely to mislead by suggesting a connection between the companies. This applies to both new registrations as well as old ones.
In order to avoid sanction, the respondent company has to demonstrate that its actions were not done to capitalise on an existing brand. This can be shown by various factors, including the fact that the name was adopted in good faith or that the interests of the applicant are not adversely affected to any significant extent by the registration of the name. If the respondent company is either unsuccessful or fails to respond within the two-month period allowed, CNA will direct that the name be changed to one that is not the same or does not suggest a connection. The initial application fee is £400 and the CNA may award costs as well as granting security for costs. Any decision can be appealed to the High Court.
Ian Mitchell is an associate specialising in corporate law at leading UK law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP.