Finding the perfect company name isn’t easy. Not only must the name represent the company, but it should also support brand recognition. To complicate things further, it also must be checked and approved by the local court (Amtsgericht) before you can use it as your company name. To be sure that the local court doesn’t reject the company name, a preliminary check by the IHK helps. In this article, you’ll learn why you should use the check for the company name by the IHK (Chamber of Industry and Commerce), how exactly this is done and many other things as well.
- Who can use the IHK name check?
- Why should I use an IHK name check?
- What exactly does the IHK check?
- What about trademarks?
- Are there special rules?
- When is the right time?
- Is it compulsory?
- Which IHK?
- How long does it take?
- What does it cost?
- What happens if it gets rejected?
- What happens after the name check?
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All companies that are required to register in the commercial register (Handelsregister) need a company name. These companies are ideal candidates for the IHK name check.
A company name sounds very simple at first, but unfortunately, it’s not used nearly as often as it should be. Before the company name is entered in the Handelsregister, it must first be checked and approved by the responsible local court. For the desired name to be registered, it must meet the formal requirements and be sufficiently different from existing companies. Otherwise, it will be rejected. This results in additional costs for the founders.
To avoid this, the IHK provides founders and entrepreneurs with a free service for preliminary enquiries regarding company law, in which the desired company name is thoroughly checked in advance. The preliminary examination by the IHK is not obligatory but should be used by entrepreneurs and founders to unexpected costs and delays when forming a company in Germany. In most cases, the IHK’s assessment is consistent with the judge’s subsequent decision.
The preliminary check can also speed up the incorporation process. Your local (competent) notary can attach the IHK examination result to the application to the Handelsregister as proof of a preliminary assessment of the validity of the registration.
During the preliminary examination under company law, the IHK checks whether your proposed name fulfils the following requirements:
- The name is not already used by another company in the jurisdiction of the responsible local court.
- There is no risk of confusion with other companies in the jurisdiction of the responsible local court.
- The company name does not contain any misleading information or inadmissible elements.
Does the company name have a distinctive character?
The chosen company name must be sufficiently distinctive. This means that the name must stand out from other regionally-based companies. This is usually achieved with an individual name suffix, for example with a combination of letters or numbers that have at least three digits. The company name can be based on the name of the founders, the activity of the company or an imaginary term. A combination of the three variants is also possible.
Is the company name misleading?
The name of a company may not contain anything misleading. For example, it’s only allowed to carry the added term of “consulting” if it really is a consulting firm.
Can the company name cause confusion?
The company name must not pose any risk of confusion. For example, if a business with the same or a very similar name already exists in the same place where the business is to be opened, the risk of confusion is too high.
This is only a rough overview of the requirements and minimum requirements for a registered company name. Here you can read in detail which additional rules you have to observe when determining the company name.
No, the IHK does not check whether you can have your company name protected under trademark law. All examinations related to trademark protection must be done by you or by a service provider. If you intend to have your company name protected as a trademark, the DPMA (German Patent and Trade Mark Office) can provide useful information.
Yes, with some legal forms such as gGmbH, GbR, or the sole proprietorship, further regulations must be considered when finding a name. You can find detailed information about the special characteristics of these in the following articles:
- Company name for non-profit organisations (German article)
- Company name for sole proprietorships
- Finding a name for a partnership under civil law (German article)
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There is no fixed date to have your company name-checked by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK).
However, the recommended time for the IHK check is generally the immediate phase before you draw up the articles of association (or have them drawn up), go to the notary appointment to form a company, or invest money in domain rights, trademark rights and marketing, all of which contain the unchecked company name.
In short, avoid additional notary, lawyer or administrative costs for a provisional, unchecked company name by getting a name check well in advance.
No, you don’t have to. Since the check by the IHK is voluntary, you can theoretically go without the name check. Based on our experience in forming thousands of companies, we strongly advise you not to skip the IHK check. If you skip the preliminary check by the IHK, you increase your risk that the local court will reject your name idea.
The application for a name check can be submitted online to your responsible IHK. On the home page of the IHK website, you can use the IHK Finder to find out which area of responsibility your company falls under.
Depending on the region and available staff, the name check may take one to two days. In metropolitan areas such as Berlin, the check may take a few days longer due to the high number of enquiries.
The company name check is a free service of the IHK. Fees only accrue when the company is registered in the Handelsregister and then entered.
As previously mentioned, the name check by the IHK only provides an estimation as to whether the registry court will enter your company name in the Handelsregister without objection. Ultimately, however, it’s always the district judge who decides whether the entry is made or rejected. In rare cases, it may happen that the IHK has deemed a company name as registrable, but this name is subsequently rejected by the district judge. If this is the case, the company name must be changed. This may entail additional costs, such as amendments to the statutes and notary fees. All additional costs are borne by the founders, as the IHK does not assume any guarantees or liability for your assessment of the admissibility of the company name.
HWK or IHK: Who checks my company name for trade professions?
Although the HWK (chamber of crafts) is normally responsible for entrepreneurs who want to form a craft business, you must contact the IHK for the name check. They will check all company names regardless of industry and legal form. The HWK is consulted only if there are ambiguities in the wording of the object of the company.
Can I register my company name against the recommendation of the IHK?
Yes, that is possible. The company name check by the IHK is only an estimation. If the IHK rejects your company name, this does not mean that you’re not obligated to follow its assessment. You can register your company under the desired company name in the Handelsregister because ultimately the local court makes the decision as to whether a company name is registered or not.
We don’t advise that you go against the recommendation of the IHK or omit the preliminary check of the company name completely since the predictions of the IHK are normally correct. In order to avoid delays in registration in the Handelsregister, you should therefore always make use of the name verification service and rely on the judgement of the IHK. In this way, you can avoid additional costs and delays until the company has been completely established.
Also, keep in mind that the limitation of your company’s liability will not come into effect until the company has been entered in the Handelsregister. Any delay in registration, therefore, means an extension of the phase in which shareholders are personally liable.
If the IHK gives you a positive response, you can continue with forming the company by setting up a notary appointment. The verified company name is the one you use in your articles of association (Gesellschaftsvertrag) and has notarised by the notary’s office (Notariat).
Note: Getting your company name-checked is just one step out of many in the company formation process in Germany.
Would you like to have your company name-checked?
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- 10+ years experience
Hi, I’m Andreas and I’ve been advising businesses in Germany for over a decade. I’d be happy to call you and answer any questions you have in a one-on-one consultation.