Brand Names and Trademarks – What We Can Learn From Oscar Wilde

Uncategorized Oct 01, 2018

 Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, says

‘It had always been a girlish dream of mine to love someone whose name was Ernest. There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence.’

In this quote Oscar Wilde captures the significance of names. How a name alone can lead to our having faith in a person called Ernest. We subconsciously form an impression of the individual as someone serious in intent or purpose, and sincere.

From this it’s clear that a mere name evokes certain reactions and emotional responses.

So, bear this in mind when you’re naming anything in your business. The name can give customers an idea or feeling about your business even before they have experienced working with you.

Names are hugely important in terms of your intellectual property as they contain the value of your brand. So, they deserve serious attention.

After all your name is the first thing to come out of your mouth every time you pitch your company.

You might be thinking, I’m just developing a desktop software, a mobile app, a financial advice service, who cares about the name?

Well as it happens the market does care, and it’s just simple psychology. It’s also an important way in which your “IP” is manifested.

How Names Can Protect Your IP

When you’re ready to launch your products or services, your “IP” so to speak (using that word in the loosest sense as a shorthand term to denote your ideas, the body of knowledge, and skills that you bring to the market), then by giving your offering a good name, your identity will stand out and help you to build a business on strong foundations. That’s the way to create what will become potentially one of the most valuable assets in your business.

Be mindful of IP principles so you create intellectual property for yourself that is yours and will protect your market share and revenues.  

Names are an example, par excellence where you have the possibility of most benefiting your business, or indeed, damaging it.


There’s A Lot More to Names Than Meets The Eye

Even if you fall in love with a name, don’t adopt it if it can’t be yours. People make this fundamental mistake time and again – not doing enough due diligence checks on a name before adopting it, or even deciding to go ahead anyway with a name even if someone else has better rights to it. 

This is a wild west mentality which may work if you have deep pockets to fight it out should the other party object one day, or to them buy them out if necessary. However, if you have lesser resources, then take less risks.   

A brand name which you develop your brand identity around is analogous to a plot of land. While the designs, logo and other identity creation work are the equivalent to buildings you might build on a plot.

The name is an intellectual property right, similar to when you own a plot of land. Just like land, unless you have solid foundations, and do proper checks before you develop it, you run risks.

The risk of losing money, finding yourself on the wrong side of a dispute, needing to rebrand – all sorts of undesirable potential consequences.

At the least if you’re using a name where you’re risking a dispute down the line, set aside a budget in your accounts for litigation costs.

Finding Names In a Hurry?

When you have an idea for a new business concept, what’s the first thing you do? Probably you’ll pick a name, register a domain or company name and move on to visual designs, a website maybe, printing business cards and so on. 

The need for a name is the overriding imperative because until you have one, you can’t communicate the new offering to the world. 

And therein lies the problem. Names are often chosen too quickly.

 When choosing a name, the primary concern should be the legal dimension. Whether the name sounds cool, or is catchy matters for sure. However, these are secondary to whether the name is available for you to use, and is legally effective.

 Legal effectiveness is a most important aspect of names because the objective of a name is to enable you to stand out and differentiate yourself from competitors. Your name should be unique to you. It must be one that competitors can’t copy or adopt similar names to.

 Your brand name helps customers your products and services.

 Customers should not confuse competitors’ offerings with yours. So, it’s essential that you have a name that differentiates your business. That means the name should be capable of functioning as a trademark.

 However perfect a name may be, if it belongs to someone else, or can’t function as a trade mark find another.

 This statement, about whether a name can function as a trade mark is not well understood.

 Distinctive Rather Than Descriptive Names

 A name can only function as a trade mark if it’s distinctive, rather than descriptive. The widespread tendency to opt for names that say on the tin precisely what it is you do is the opposite of what you should be doing when naming your business if you want to create valuable intellectual property.

You need a name not a description of your services.  

The thinking behind using generic names goes something like this. Say you’re launching a new podcast:

 Podcast listeners only get two extremely short bits of text to aid them in determining whether your show is worth listening to: your title and the name of the creator of the show. So, you reckon you should choose a generic name so listeners can see that your show is on the topic they are interested in.

 If you search in iTunes for a show about Internet Marketing, you might then be more likely to subscribe to a podcast named “The Internet Marketing Show” than if it were called “Biz Dominate”.

 True it’s possible The Internet Marketing show may appeal more if it’s exactly what you were searching for. Biz Dominate could potentially cover just about any business topic, so the listener may not be sure it is what they’re looking for.

 Looking at it in this way it does make sense to choose the most generic name possible.

 But actually, it’s not a good approach to naming because there could be dozens of other shows with similar names like Internet Marketing Today or Internet Marketing Tactics. By choosing a generic name you’re actually making yourself invisible and easily confusable with competitors who may offer similar shows.  So, if yours is a successful show and people look to find it, they may end up finding someone else’s rather than yours.


Competing shows will be able to ride off the back of your success and there will be little you can do to stop them.


On the whole, don’t be afraid to choose a name rather than a description even if it does need further explanation to communicate what your show is about.


Names intrigue people and the potential listener may well get a sense of what your show is about, even though they may not know precisely what topic it covers. 


For example, my podcast is called Legally Branded (it’s coming out on 8 October). It will cover Intellectual property, trade marks, copyright, patents, confidentiality, brand building on social media, how to build a valuable business and similar topics. People won’t know all I’m going to cover when they see the name.  But even if the name Intellectual Property would be closer to describing what the show will be all about, it’s not necessary for me to only focus on names that include the words intellectual property within them.


Hopefully, people will get a sense that it’s got something to do with branding and law – and even if they’re just looking for intellectual property podcasts they might just stop by to listen


So, I would urge you to not take the easy way out initially just to make it easy for searchers to find you in the early days when you’re unknown


Assume you will make it big, and think big. You’re going to succeed so worry more about protecting your distinctiveness so potential listeners are not confused by other similarly named competitors when they hear about your amazing show and look for you.


Don’t be tempted to take the easy way out unless all you’re doing is gauging interest for a new concept. In that case be ready to use a proper brand name once you’ve decided the concept will work and you want to proceed with it.


Successful brands become memorable precisely because they don’t have names that describe their business activities – for example Microsoft, Galaxy, Google, Apple Computers, and so on.

If Larry Page and Sergey Brin had decided to call themselves ‘Search Engine’, how distinctive would they be today? 

When you use a descriptive name you can’t stop competitors also describing what they do in similar ways. To have exclusivity over a name it needs to be a name that can uniquely be yours. Otherwise, you risk becoming generic.

In conclusion a descriptive name, (which would be, for example, if Google had called itself Search Engine), has a very short-term benefit. Longer term the effect of using such a name is to make it easy for competitors to ride off the back of your success and get a slice of your market.  Because a descriptive name is not capable of functioning as a trade mark, using one means you can’t stand out and be unique and different. You effectively reduce the barriers to entry and make it easy for your competitors to compete with you by using a similar name.


Why Register A Trademark?

 Those businesses that manage to hang on in there, and actually reach the end game, and become the big businesses of tomorrow, the stars, the bankable propositions, build value in their brands with each passing year.  

As you go from strength to strength your brand grows in value, and one of the worst possible scenarios after you’ve invested so heavily in your business would be for your brand to be taken away from you, or for your customers to be diverted to another business with a similar name.

Trade mark registration of the name, rather than the logo, is the way to protect your intellectual property assets.

Registration locks down the name while you develop the logo and other brand identity for it. What you don’t want is to go to the trouble of having the name checked out, only to find that someone else applies to register it or begins to use the same name while you are still having the brand identity materials designed.


So, what’s the learning from this blog?  

Customers find you by looking out for your brand name, so making sure this identifier, this ‘badge of origin’ is distinctive to you and memorable is crucial.

 Over time, your brand will develop a reputation. It will also be associated in the minds of your consumers with things like the quality or value of your services, the fashionable nature of your goods, or their exclusivity. So, it’s important to register your rights in the name to make sure it’s firmly yours.

The key to success in business is to differentiate your offerings from that of others in virtually everything you do.

Descriptive names make your brand generic.

A name is only suitable for you if it can be yours.  So, do thorough due diligence checks on a name and be risk averse when it comes to choosing one. A name contains the value that your business generates. It is expensive and disruptive to have to change it later.

If someone else beats you to the punch and registers your name as a trade mark it’s going to be extremely expensive for you to fight it out. Much cheaper to register your rights because it puts you in a much stronger position to fight if someone else encroaches on your rights.


If you want to learn more about names then visit my website and sign up to the free video course on names.



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