What’s in a name? Get the details right

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NOTE: this article has been updated as at November 2015

A local controversy prompts Jennifer Adams to warn all businesses of the need to check the names they plan to use. This article explains the legal and procedural requirements.

When dear old Woolies closed down a few years ago, the manager of my local branch in Dorchester decided to save her colleagues’ jobs and open a similar shop selling similar goods under the name Wellworths.

But the Channel Islands-based Barclay brothers who own the Woolworths name complained and forced the name to be changed to Wellchester. The solicitor’s fees, costs of changing the name and signage proved too much for the embryonic business and when the landlord increased the rent it closed after thre...

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About Jennifer Adams

Jennifer Adams

Jennifer Adams is Consulting Editor of AccountingWEB and is a professional business author specialising in corporate governance and taxation. She runs her own accounting and consultancy business with offices based in Surrey and Dorset.


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17th Oct 2012 16:02

i dont like the Barclay brothers
they can stay in Brechtou as far as i am concerned

wellworths was an irish compay as well so how they got judgement one wonders - usual method presumably - throw heavy weight very expensive lawyers at it and kill the business one way or another

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17th Oct 2012 18:59

was the name I was expecting to appear on former Woolworth stores. Wellworths is too close, just asking for trouble.

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19th Oct 2012 11:55

Once you

pick a name eg cheapstuff Ltd that will also include cheapstuff services ltd.

We have found that normally a letter to the offending company stating the objection will eleviate the problem. It's only when challenged that costs get incured.

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19th Oct 2012 12:26

The writer should have consulted a lawyer...

...and as a result this article misses the point.

I am not familiar with the details of the case, but I suspect that the actual name of the limited company was not the issue, rather it was the similarity of the trading name 'Wellworths' to 'Woolworths'. The owners of the Woolworths name could have argued that there was potential for confusion between the two names, which might have resulted in a loss of business, damage to reputation etc.

The limited company running the Wellworths store could have been called XYZ Ltd - but if it used the trading name 'Wellworths' then we have the same problem.

Knowing the Companies House rules is useful, but incorporating companies to 'protect' the names in not effective. Anyone looking to protect their right to a name or mark, or who thinks their rights have been infringed, should consult a lawyer with the relevant expertise.

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By sda13j
19th Oct 2012 12:27

Change your real name?

Daft question: if "CA06 clauses apply to anyone trading under a name which is not their real name", could a sole trader get around these issues by changing their own name? So, assuming it wasn't a corporate, if the manager of Wellworths had become Jane Wellworth (or even "Well Worhts"?) would Woolworths have been able to challenge the name?

My imaginary friend "Price Waterhouse Cooper" is thinking about setting up a sole trader accountancy practice...

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19th Oct 2012 12:38


I have a client with international in the title which is an'ignored' word for similarity purposes. We . We wanted to do a name swap with another company only to find Companies House had allowed a new company to be formed the same as my clients except for the word international. They admitted they shouldn't have allowed the new company to be formed but said they could not force them to change the name, effectively saying two wrongs can't make a right!

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19th Oct 2012 14:26


There was a case a few years ago where an electrical retailer in the North East, one Mr Dixon, branded his shop as 'Dixons' right down to using the same font and colours as the retail chain of Dixons.

Despite it being his name, Dixons brought an action against him, and he was told to stop pronto.

Round here we have branches of Krunchy Fried Chicken, with strangely familiar initials, and white on red branding, but I noticed last week that there boxes have been radically changed, with different initials and colour scheme, so I wonder if the Colonel's lawyers have turned up out of the blue. Most audacious fast food lookalike I have seen was a place selling burgers and fried chicken called ... McTucky's! How to upset 2 lots of lawyers at once.



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20th Oct 2012 08:54

'Too similar'

'Wellworths' was indeed a trading name - para 5 mentions the word 'trading'.

As the introduction para states - the 'Wellworths' saga is a reminder of how careful a new business needs to be when thinking up a name - a trading or a company name. Any name which is not someone's own personal name.

The Barclay Brothers did think there was too much similarlty between the two trading names:

that there was potential for confusion between the two names, which might have resulted in a loss of business, damage to reputation etc 

As the final paragraph states - Companies House terms this 'opportunistic'.


Plus>>> as para 4 states the article was given a very detailed 'once over' by an eminent law adviser at Companies House. 




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By paddy55
20th Oct 2012 04:06

Businees Names

Registring a word or symbol as a trade mark gives far better protection.

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By yeboyye
21st Oct 2012 17:29

Shop name

For many years our local town had Woolworths on one side of the street and Wellworths was more or less opposite it on the other side.  Wellworths closed first and then Woolworths, but both had traded for a long time.  There didn't seem to be a problem with the similar names.

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By Ian Bee
23rd Oct 2012 11:01

I am not a lawyer but I can recall from the dim and distant past a difference between the law regarding names registration and an action for "passing off", I think it was called. If you have a shop in your own name, there is nothing to prevent trading under that name, but if you are called Dixon and open an electrical outlet with the same font and colouring of the better known brand, they would seek to prevent it.

From a customer's point of view that is quite right too, as you would want to know who you are dealing with.

Interestingly I was driving through a rural area at the weekend and saw a convenience store called Premier, with the same logo as the hotel chain. I wonder how long that will stay there.

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23rd Oct 2012 13:25

Barclay brothers ....?

Isn't that rather similar to a high street bank ...?


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