In its inaugural determination, the recently created Company Names Tribunal passed judgment on a move by the Coca-Cola Company Limited against an opportunistic and some might say audacious registration of “Coke Cola Limited.” Katherine Seymour reports.
Who: The Coca-Cola Company -v- Coke Cola Limited
When: 3 December 2008
Where: The Company Names Tribunal, Newport, South Wales
Law stated as at: 3 December 2008
Following an application by The Coca-Cola Company Limited ("Coca Cola") to change the registered company name Coke Cola Limited, the Company Names Tribunal ("CNT") ordered Coke Cola Limited ("Cola") on 3 December 2008 to change its name within one month to a name that does not contravene section 69 of the Companies Act 2006 on the basis that it is "opportunistic".
The Company Name Tribunal was set up under the Companies Act 2006 and has been effective since 1 October 2008.
Coca-Cola filed a complaint at the earliest possible opportunity on 1 October 2008 against Cola, a company incorporated on 29 February 2008. The application was for a change of name of the offending registration and was very possibly the very first application of its kind filed.
Notice of the complaint was sent to the registered office of Cola but no defence was filed within the 1 month period specified. As such, the Company Name Adjudicator exercised his discretion not to treat the application as opposed, and the company was ordered to change the name to one that is sufficiently dissimilar to Coca-Cola's name such that its use in the UK would no longer be likely to mislead by suggesting a connection between the Coca Cola and the Cola. The order to change the name was accompanied by a costs award of £700 against Cola.
Cola neither voluntarily changed its name nor lodged an appeal against the CNT order within the month stated. As a result, the Company Names Adjudicator, acting under section 73(4) of the Companies Act 2006, ordered that the name be changed to that of the registered company number. Companies House registered a change of name from Coke Cola Limited to 06519140 Limited on 9 January 2009.
Why this matters:
Opportunistic company name registrations are similar to cyber squatting of website domain names. The opportunist name registrant's purpose would be to benefit from another Company or brand's fame. Whilst opportunists may register company names that are very similar to well-known companies in an attempt to get the company to buy the registered name, the CNT should prove an effective deterrent to such activities.
However, it is important to note that the CNT is only an avenue down which to complain about registered company names that are too close to the applicant's when they are "opportunistic."
What does "opportunistic" actually mean here? The CNT website tells us that the CNT procedure is "for complaints by businesses or persons who have a goodwill or reputation associated with a name and where that name (or a similar name likely to suggest a connection with the complainant) has been opportunistically registered as a company name by someone else with a view to obtaining money from the complainant, or to prevent the complainant from registering the name."
Companies finding non-opportunistically registered company names that are similar or "too like" their own should refer their dispute to Companies House or rely as appropriate on any trade mark registration they may have or the law of passing off.