22nd January 2014
(Sorry about all those quote marks – we know it’s the textual equivalent of someone spraying you with saliva while making an over-vehement point at a party, but we wanted to emphasise how certain sections of the press have got their undies well and truly in a twist over this.).
For a start, there’s nothing terribly secret about incorporating a company – the results will be published on the Companies House website for the world to see. And if the shareholdings and directorships don’t disclose absolutely everything about who is involved, well that’s hardly unusual. (As for that Beckham reference - that’s just click-bait, pure and simple.)
And so what if they have set up companies? It happens all the time for a wide variety of reasons and is hardly the stuff of subterfuge and intrigue. There are nearly 9,000,000 corporate bodies of one sort or another on the UK public register as of today. But the more curious thing is the suggestion that somehow setting up a company is necessary to protect your brand. For sure, it can be a part of your brand strategy, but it’s a common misconception that it’s essential or even important.
A company name is no more than a label given to a particular corporate body for the time being. It’s just a name, and there's no guarantee you’re free to use that name in trade (the law in this area can get quite complicated and dependent on specific facts). The name isn’t even the prime identifier of the company in questions – the registered number is much more specific since it never changes, whereas a company’s name can be altered on a whim.
And, with very limited exceptions, Companies House will allow any name to be registered unless there is already a company with that exact name already on the books. So, while registering a company with the name [YOUR BRAND] Limited can be a good move, it won’t necessarily stop someone else registering something similar such as [YOUR BRAND] (2014) Limited, or [YOUR BRAND] (West Midlands) Limited. Then there’s the matter of the day-to-day “trading style” or “business name” which doesn’t have to be anything like the registered company name.
If you really want to protect your brand, you need to be able to register your trade marks first and foremost. After that, you should also have a think about relevant domain names, and finally company names. These are all regulated by separate agencies according to different sets of rules and they’re not necessarily consistent, so some work may be needed to strike a happy balance between them. But if you haven’t got your trade marks cleared, you’re likely to be sunk no matter how many company names you’ve registered.
In the meantime, all we can say about the Cambridges is that they seem to feel they could benefit from having a trading arm. And, er, that’s it. Apparently it’s in order to raise funds for charitable causes (perhaps they’re planning to go down the Duchy Originals route and give Pops a run for his money?). It almost certainly doesn’t mean that we’ll be seeing official Kate’n’Wills onesies any time soon. All in all, a bit of a non-story really. Nothing to see here, move along. Except it’s given us a great idea for another article...