1. What is a trade mark?
A trade mark is your business identifier. It makes you stand out from the crowd of other businesses offering similar products/services. It can be many different things, usually it would be your brand name, product name, your logo, but it could also be the shape of your product, or even the musical jingle you use (think of the Intel sound). Anything that uniquely identifies your business/product/service; that your customers associate only with you and your business. It gives them the guarantee that they know what to expect when they see your trade mark. It’s how you know you’re buying your favourite coffee, or avoiding the restaurant chain that gave your friend food-poisoning.
2. Why do I need to register my trade mark?
Lots of business owners believe that having their domain name registered, a company name registered with Companies House, and a Facebook page is the same as brand protection. It isn’t. Those things give you some rights in the name you have chosen, but not much more than the paper they’re written on (literally).
Registering your trade mark gives you certain enhanced rights that you don’t get so easily with reputation-based unregistered rights, including the assumed right to use the trade mark.
It also gives you provides you with a tangible asset for your business. It is something you are then able to sell, to license, even to mortgage if you need to. It gives you certainty which in turn gives key people, like investors, certainty. You may have seen Dragon’s Den and noticed that one of the first questions a potential investee is asked is what intellectual property protection they have in place.
It also makes sure that you have protection across the whole country equally. So you can prevent those pesky copycats setting up in John O’Groats just as easily as preventing the people living next door.
3. How do you protect a trade mark?
In the UK, and in most other countries, you need to:
- Know what you’re protecting (is it a word, a logo, is it in colour etc)
- Know what goods/services you are going to provide and list them specifically
- Know which “Class(es)” those goods/services are categorised in
- Know who is going to own the trade mark, as an asset of a business it might be you personally, jointly with your business partner(s), a company, a specialist IP holding company, or your Granny.
- Have the money to pay the fees.
Once you have the above sorted, you file an application with the government office, in the UK this is the UK Intellectual Property Office. They will then review the application and check it meets their requirements. If it does, it will be published for opposition purposes – this allows other people a couple of months to object to your application if they want to. Assuming no one opposes the application, the government office will send you a registration certificate and you will be the proud owner of a registered trade mark.
The whole process takes about four months if the application progresses without a hitch. Once the trade mark is registered the protection dates from the date you filed the application.
4. How much does it cost and is it worth it?
Using a professional will mean that you incur professional fees. Just like using an accountant, web developer etc. As with all professional services, the fees vary depending on the quality and complexity of the advice, the size of the firm you use etc.
On top of any professional fees, the UK government charges £170 for a trade mark application in one “class” of goods or services and £50 for each extra class. Classes are an administrative tool that the government office uses to identify what business sector(s) you intend to operate in. Most trade marks cover 1-3 classes.
In return for your fee, they process your application and if all goes well they issue a registration certificate. Your trade mark is valid for 10 years. Realistically most trade mark applications using a mid-priced professional, will cost less than £1,000 to register. That works out at less than £100 a year for the protection. Probably less than you’ll spend on stationery each year? I would definitely say it’s worthwhile.
5. Trading overseas
If you trade overseas at all, you should consider protecting your trade mark in all the countries you trade in, preferably before you start trading there. This includes overseas stockists and distributors (if you trade wholesale goods for example). It also should include your country of manufacture if that’s not the UK, especially if that’s where your trade mark is applied (e.g. textile goods made in Turkey or China). Trade mark rights are territorial, so having protection in one country is not sufficient to protect you in other countries. Your trade mark advisor can help you work out which countries to cover, and come up with a cost-effective strategy for protecting the trade mark where you need it.
If you have any questions, or would like further advice or assistance in protecting your trade marks, please feel free to get in touch with Clare. She offers a free 30-minute phone consultation which can be booked by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also lots of information available on her website: stanmoreip.com.