Trade marks aren’t just for the likes of big brands and household names. In fact, if you’ve recently launched a business (or you’re about to), then registering a trade mark should feature high on your priority list.
Rachael Ward, a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney at Ward Trade Marks, our client, explains all.
What is a trade mark?
A trade mark is a sign that allows consumers to distinguish your brand from that of another. A trade mark can be any kind of graphic representation, including brand names and logos. Colours, patterns, shapes and even sounds can also be trade marked.
If you’ve got a business, then it’s likely that you’ve got a name and a logo. You might even have a slogan. These are all trade marks, even if you didn’t realise it. But here’s the catch: you need to register these trade marks. Otherwise, your business could be at risk.
Do I have to register a trade mark?
Now, you might be wondering if this is really necessary. As a business owner, you probably have a hundred-and-one things on your to-do list. You might not have set aside any time in your already busy schedule for registering a trade mark – something which to any outsider sounds complicated and legalistic.
In theory, you don’t have to register a trade mark. You could continue with your business, using your brand name and logo without ever registering them. Until, that is, someone else comes along and registers a brand name and logo that’s just like yours. This business might only have been operating for a matter of days. It might not even have launched yet. But if this business trade marks a business name and logo before you – and they are considered to be ‘similar’ to yours – then you may lose the right to use them.
This is the shocking reality that many businesses find themselves in every year. They invest countless hours building their brand. Then, just like that, it all comes crashing down. They can no longer use the name and logo that has been associated with their business for so long, possibly since its inception. And all because they failed to register their trade mark.
You might find this hard to believe. Surely if you’ve been operating under a brand name and logo, then you acquire some kind of ownership over them? Not necessarily. You may be able to take legal action, but it’s expensive, time-consuming and hard to prove your case. Your only other options would be to go through a re-brand, or to shut up shop.
What are the benefits of registering a trade mark?
The number one benefit of registering a trade mark is, therefore, protection.
First and foremost, it protects your brand. By registering your business name and logo, you acquire exclusive rights to use those trade marks. You can then use the registered trade mark symbol (an R in a circle) to demonstrate these rights. Should any other business attempt to replicate your brand without permission, you are entitled to take legal action. You can ask the other business to change their name, cease trading and even pay damages. A trade mark lasts for 10 years, so you can rest assured that your brand is protected for an entire decade. You can then continue to renew your trade mark, ensuring protection for the years to come.
Registering a trade mark also protects you against unforeseen legal action. Indeed, you don’t just have to be worried about other businesses imitating you. You also have to be concerned about unwittingly copying others. Registering a trade mark involves conducting a thorough search of all other registered trade marks in the UK. You should only proceed if that trade mark is free to use. If you fail to complete this due diligence, then you may accidentally infringe trade mark laws. You may subsequently be the unhappy recipient of a cease and desist letter. This can have serious consequences, and may even be a fatal blow to your business.
In protecting your brand, you’re adding value to your company. A registered trade mark is a piece of intellectual property. As such, it’s an asset that you can franchise, licence and sell. If selling your business is the ultimate end-goal, then the security of a registered trade mark will be all-the-more attractive to potential buyers.
When should I register a trade mark?
You shouldn’t wait until you reach this point to register a trade mark. Rather, you should register your business name and logo immediately. Ideally, you’ll do it before you even launch your business. If this date has passed, then the next best time is now.
It’s very tempting to delay the task. Businesses tend to make all sorts of platitudes, saying they’ll register a trade mark when they start making more money or become better known. For the reasons outlined above, this is a risky strategy. You don’t have to be a highly successful enterprise or a multi-million-pound company to register a trade mark. Any business can and should register their business name and logo.
How do I register a trade mark?
So, how exactly do you go about registering a trade mark?
The first step is to check that your brand qualifies as a trade mark. Then, you need to go through the trade mark registers to ensure a similar or identical trade mark doesn’t already exist in your sector. If it does, seek advice from a trade mark attorney to check if it is safe to proceed. Otherwise, you’ll need to amend your branding. Once you have completed these steps, you can make a trade mark application to the Intellectual Property Office. Submitting the application is only the initial stage. There are a number of subsequent stages, including an official search report and examination, and an opposition period.
The majority of businesses ask a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney to handle the process for them – and with good reason. Registering a trade mark is fraught with potential pitfalls for the uninitiated. Failing to carry out proper searches is a common mistake, and one that could ultimately require that you must withdraw your application and, therefore, waste money. Errors on the application form are another frequent occurrence, particularly in relation to the specification. This is when you describe the goods and services the trade mark will be used for, now and in the future. If the specification is too narrow, is incorrectly worded, or is in the wrong class, then it will be effectively worthless. You cannot change your trademark once you’ve applied, so you have to get it right the first-time round.
To ensure your trade mark is successfully registered – and meets your business needs – it is strongly recommended that you ask a professional for help. At Ward Trade Marks, we can manage the entire process on your behalf, allowing you to get back to what you do best: running your business.
Many thanks to Rachel Ward for guest blogging for Squarebird.