Companies House operates under UK legislation to prevent registration of identical or very similar company names. However, it is still quite common for company names to be registered which are perceived by existing companies to be too similar to their own.
There are a number of measures which can be taken against a newly registered company (newco) which is believed to be using a similar name to that of an existing company in bad faith:
- the newco can be contacted directly and persuaded to change its name once it is pointed out that an existing company is already using a very similar name. It may subsequently be easier to show that the newco is acting in bad faith if the newco does not respond to a reasonable request to change its name.
- Section 37 of the Companies Act allows the Registrar of Companies to require a company to change its name. A letter of complaint to the Registrar may prompt the desired action. The Registrar may well, however, decide that any similarity is insufficient to warrant action.
- an application to the Company Names Tribunal (part of the UK Intellectual Property Office) can be made, but the Tribunal will only order a company to change its name if it considers that the name 'is likely to mislead by suggesting a connection between the [newco] and the applicant'.
Ultimately, the usual legal remedies may be available for infringement of a registered trademark, or under the tort of 'passing off' (a civil remedy to prevent someone else unfairly making use of your commercial reputation). However, these remedies can be expensive and slow, so the remedies outlined above (if successful) will often be the quickest and most cost effective way to get a company to change its name.