Brand identity: what’s in a name?
Karen Millen lost her High Court battle with her old company earlier this year, when she attempted to regain the rights to use her name in business. The court ruled there would be too much confusion between the current fashion brand and any business Millen set up trading on her name, even if she operated outside the fashion sector. The prohibition on the designer also extended to the use of the word ‘Karen’ without the word Millen or even with just the letter ‘M’.
In the same week as the Millen case, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) approved the high street opticians’ bid to protect the catchphrase ‘should’ve gone to Specsavers’ and allowed the company to trademark both the terms ‘should’ve’ and ‘shouldve’. In accepting a trademark for a single word, which is a verb in common usage, Specsavers could have the right to exclude others from using ‘should’ve’ or ‘shouldve’ when communicating about certain classes of goods, including optician services, medical hearing aids and eyewear.
Both these examples represent the range of increasing numbers of current court actions and trademark applications by businesses in the attempt to lay claim to and control every possible aspect of brand identity.
Choosing to lend your own name when you start a company is appealing in its sense of identity and personal charm but it’s vitally important to also consider your medium and long term strategies. If there is any possibility that you’re building a business to sell, then it may be prudent to create a company name, to ensure yours is available to you going forward. If you do decide to develop a ‘namesake brand’, it makes sense to register the name as a trademark, with yourself as the owner, rather than the company. That way, you’ll have far greater control over the name in a sale or any investment situation, as the name will not be part of the company’s assets. The new owners could negotiate for a licence to use the name, or if you choose to end your involvement with the original brand, you’ll have leverage to decide how you can reuse your name again in any future ventures.