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What’s in a name? or Be very careful what you call your business

TWF logos 1992

Unused TWF logos from 1992. All are copyright of The Word Factory Ltd

I’m not one to get angry, I tend to shake my head in disbelief and get irritated internally, but some things make you want to hit your head against a very hard inanimate object. What could have riled me so much? The fact that the name I chose for my business is appearing all over the place in all its various versions.

The Word Factory is a great name – clearly, because it is being used so much – and it’s one I dreamt up in the early 1980s. I have an editor’s dictionary published all those years ago in which my wife has written about me one day setting up The Word Factory.

It was a dream and it remained just an idea until 1992 when I finally set up my own business under that name, operating out of Nottingham but delivering writing and PR services to companies and agencies throughout the UK and as far away as the USA and China. I was advised at the time that there was no benefit to making it a limited company but in the early 2000s that changed so in 2004 The Word Factory Ltd was created (I also own the company name The Word Factory (UK) Ltd which I’m hanging on to for obvious reasons).

As for an online presence, I set up thewordfactory.co.uk many moons ago (I can’t remember the exact date without checking) and didn’t bother buying the .com equivalent for the simple fact that mine was a UK business, not an American business. The understanding at the time was that the British companies that had .com sites were merely trying to appear international when in fact they weren’t. Today, this has been relaxed and thousands of non-American companies use .com.

I would have thought the first thing you do when thinking of setting up a new business or organisation is to check if the name you want to use is available – at Companies House as well as online. If you see that The Word Factory Ltd is indeed an active company, why on earth would you set up a company with a very similar name? So similar in fact that one organisation even confused themselves and – incredibly – allocated the copyright of all their website content to me?!?

Also, my business gets a significant amount of their Twitter traffic and retweets – which is good for my social media activity but very confusing for all concerned. I’m assuming the people they deal with are told: “Yes, it is a bit confusing, there’s another outfit out there with a similar name to us.” No mate, you are the outfit with a similar name to us.

And why would you, on seeing that all the main domain names for The Word Factory (.co.uk, .com, .org, .org.uk and even .eu) have already been taken, decide to take one of the other meaningless suffixes like .me etc and then start trading on a name that has been established by another organisation for nearly 25 years?

If you Google The Word Factory you will also see that it has been used for the title of a book, it is a table-top game and it is being used to describe some educational programme. Of course, not many people would Google the company name to find me, they would tend to search for ‘PR & writing services in Nottingham’ or something similar but it’s clear that choosing a similar – or virtually identical – name has the potential to cause a great deal of confusion. And if they’re also going to have a presence in the region where my business is based there is the distinct possibility that someone searching for me could find them and, realising what they offer is not what they’re looking for, go elsewhere rather than getting in touch with me.

I did write to one organisation once and ask why they could not be more creative and come up with a different name. They did send me a reply but I have to be honest I haven’t read it to this day and that was probably a year or two ago. I’m not interested in any discussion about the matter, I just cannot believe that anyone would be so unimaginative as to use another organisation’s name, albeit with a very subtle difference.

It seems obvious to say but my firm advice to anyone creating a company would be that when you do come up with your business name – having checked it at Companies House, on Google, on Twitter, on Facebook etc – you need to register it ASAP and protect it as much as possible. Of course, that won’t stop people coming along later and using the same name, and you certainly can’t be expected to buy up all the domain name suffixes to your company name, but you will kick yourself if you don’t turn the name into a limited entity and 10 years later someone else does – then you will look like the imposter and they might even have the gall to ask you to cease operating under that name.

On the plus side, I can give myself a little pat on the back because the name I dreamt up around 33 years ago is obviously so good that loads of people want to copy it. However, for heaven’s sake, if you’re trying to make your mark in the world originality is a major factor and deliberately – or even ignorantly – using someone else’s name is not just incredibly stupid, it’s also completely and utterly pointless.

Have you ever had someone purloin your business name? If so, what did you do?

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Rory Baxter, owner of The Word Factory, has decades of experience as a writer, editor, and public relations practitioner.

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