The UK Intellectual Property Office have just introduced a new tribunal to hear complaints against persons that register company names opportunistically, for example, by registering close variants on a known company name in order to extract money from that company. The intention is to provide a complaint mechanism similar to those available against cyber-squatters’ domain name registrations.
The procedure has been brought in by the Companies Act 2006 and the Company Names Adjudicator Rules 2008 from 1 October 2008.
A person (applicant) can only bring a complaint against a registered name if:
- it is the same as a name associated with the applicant in which he has goodwill; or
- it is sufficiently similar to such a name that its use in the UK would be likely to mislead by suggesting a connection between the company and the applicant.
Complaints are brought before the Company Names Tribunal. A fee of Â£400 is payable on bringing a complaint.
The Defences are:
- the name was registered before the complainant had any goodwill in it; or
- the company is operating or has operated (and is now dormant) under the name or is proposing to do so (and has incurred substantial start-up costs); or
- the name was registered by a company formation business and the company is available for sale to the applicant on standard terms; or
- the name was adopted in good faith; or
- the applicant’s interests are not adversely affected to a significant extent.
Defences (a) to (c) will fail if it can nonetheless be shown that the main purpose of the registration was to extract money or prevent the complainant’s own registration. As the latter implies, it is not a requirement of the procedure that the complainant has to have a registered company name. It can therefore be used, for example, to object to opportunistic registrations of trade names.