March 11, 2024
Changes to Companies Act boost brand owners
Changes to Companies Act boost brand owners

In the UK, brand owners have a useful weapon up their sleeve to challenge opportunistic company names: the Company Names Tribunal. This is a body that is operated by senior officials at the Intellectual Property Office.

The Tribunal deals with complaints about cases where a company name is registered for the primary purpose of preventing someone else with legitimate interest from registering it, or demanding payment from them to release it.

The powers of the Company Names Tribunal are provided for in Section 69 of the Companies Act 2006. Furthermore, the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 has made some changes to the Companies Act that change applications before the Company Names Tribunal. These have been effective since 4 March 2024.

These changes are beneficial for brand owners. Hooray!

To bring an application before the Tribunal, an applicant needs the company name being complained about to fall under two grounds:


(a) that it is the same as a name associated with the applicant in which he has goodwill, or

(b) that it is sufficiently similar to such a name that its use in the United Kingdom or elsewhere would be likely to mislead members of the public in the United Kingdom or elsewhere by suggesting a connection between the company and the applicant.


Previously, the act did not include “or elsewhere” so this improves brand owners’ rights. It means that a party using the offending company name outside of the UK, can be subject to an application before the Company Names Tribunal.

The UK is known for the ease of incorporating a company. This will help challenge parties incorporating here and then using the name of that company in other jurisdictions to give their business a legitimate look.

It is possible to co-join directors in an application before the Company Names Tribunal. The benefit of doing so is to make them personally liable for any costs award and thus encourages a cooperative approach. The amendments shore up this provision so directors who are listed at the time an application to the Company Names Tribunal is made remain co-joined even if they resign as directors after the application was filed (previously a resignation meant they fell off being co-joined).

Previously, the following represented defences to an application before the Company Names Tribunal:


(i) it is operating under the name,

(ii) it is proposing to do so and has incurred substantial start-up costs in preparation, or

(iii) it was formerly operating under the name and is now dormant


These defences have now been removed in their entirety.

These are welcome changes for brand owners and will increase the effectiveness of the Company Names Tribunal. It is already effective, particularly as a lot of cases don't get defended. At the time of writing, of the 43 cases decided in 2024, only three were defended.

Of these, it is interesting to note that one case that was lost resulted in an off the scale cost award of £57,700. That’s well worth co-joining a director to and taking enforcement measures to secure payment.

Nevertheless, care and professional advice should be taken to ensure that the Company Names Tribunal is the right (or only) forum to bring a challenge against a company name.

IP basics

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