Should you ever give your business your own name?

You start a new business and decide to brand it with your name. What are the problems that you can face?
One that has caused difficulties over the years arises when the business, having become extremely successful, is sold. If the business has an established brand, developed over time and with significant investment, it is likely that that brand is an important part of what a purchaser wants to buy. But when that “brand” is also your name, it will restrict what you can do with your name for a subsequent business. As it is your name, it surprises some people that they would be prevented from trading under their own name moving forward.

This problem has cropped up publicly on many occasions; designers Karen Millen and Elizabeth Emanuel had problems with subsequent design businesses, Jo Malone had to start using “Jo loves” for her new business and much litigation flowed from “Elvis Presley”.

Loss of the right to use your own name

At least when you own a business and then sell it, you are in a position to take an informed decision as to whether you do “sell” your name, or whether you license it to the purchasers with any restrictions or rights for you (assuming you can negotiate these). But the problem can also arise where you don’t own the business and weren’t therefore in control over the decisions in respect of your name.

Recently, this problem caught out the chef James Cochran, causing much heated debate in the catering world as to its fairness.
Mr Cochran had been employed by the owners of the restaurant called “James Cochran EC3”, albeit he was the “headline” employee on which the restaurant wanted to hang its marketing. The owners trademarked variations on the name.

Mr Cochran left the restaurant at the beginning of 2018, but because of the trademarks is unable to use his name for his own new ventures. Adding to the controversy and public debate is that he is taking part in a BBC2 series “Great British Menu”, and his previous employer has taken the opportunity to expand the business by launching a range of recipe options using Mr Cochran’s name, despite his personal lack of involvement.

What can you do?

The advice therefore should be that if you are thinking of using your name as your business brand, you should certainly consider checking to make sure it could be registered by you – and taking steps to register it – as an early step. This would prevent anyone else from taking over your name for marketing, but also would be a significant asset of the business if your venture is successful.

To be able to trademark, you must, of course, have a sufficiently distinctive name to satisfy the rules of registration, but that is a subject for another blog…..