When Susan Ma, one of 2011's ‘Apprentice’ hopefuls, trade marked her skincare company’s name before the programme started, she was preparing for a surge of interest and protecting her valuable intellectual properly.
While this is a good step, our advice would always be to trade mark your product name or brand from day one, not four years later like Susan.
Why do I need a trade mark?
Without a registered trade mark your competitors will find it easier to use your name for similar goods or can even apply to register it themselves and stop you using it. Also, once you have already begun trading and built up some good will in your name, it will be more costly and onerous to discover then that your name cannot be protected as a registered trade mark and that you should re-brand your business.
A registered trade mark will also allow you to bring an action for trade mark infringement against anyone trying to use your name for similar goods. This is important as it is notoriously difficult and expensive to succeed in a ‘passing off’ action if you only have an unregistered trade mark.
You can trade mark your name or the logo or both together as a single application. Each option gives a different degree of protection to your brand.
Whilst your name and logo are unregistered, you can put the TM symbol for an unregistered trade mark next to them. You can also use the copyright, C, symbol next to your logo. However, it is a criminal offence to use the registered trade mark symbol, R, next to a word or logo that is not registered. Using the registered trade mark symbol will warn competitors that your mark is registered and also make them less likely to challenge it.
The Myth of Companies House
By the way registering your business with Companies House or owning a domain name does not give you the rights to use that name as a trade mark. In fact, if another company has already registered the same name as a trade mark, you may actually be infringing their rights.
The process to get a trade mark is not expensive - from under £500 - for rights that last for 10 years and can be renewed inexpensively.
The Design Process
Establishing a corporate identify is one of the most important things a business will do, therefore ensure that you use a designer who understands basic trade mark law.
‘Innocent’ of Trade Mark Infringement?
A David and Goliath trade mark case involving ‘innocent’ drinks and a small company, called ‘Innocent Vitamins’, is a lesson for businesses.
The owner of ‘Innocent Vitamins’, Mrs Reid, received notice from ‘innocent’, the well-known smoothie manufacturer, that she was infringing their registered trade mark. Mrs Reid had recently applied to register her ‘Innocent’ logo as a trade mark at the Intellectual Property Office but received notice that the smoothie company had opposed it. Although in a press release Mrs Reid protested she wanted her day in court but the costs of a lengthy legal battle would be prohibitive. So she opted instead to re-brand, despite the product being stocked nationally in Waitrose.
The Value of Your Brand Name
Even if your product isn’t an international sensation (yet), the name it is registered under as a trade mark could become incredibly valuable if a competitor wants to use it.
For example, when Apple was launching the iPad, a company in Brazil was using the name already for a portable defibrillator. As the name was registered in Brazil, the trade mark was safe and Apple could not force the company to cease trading and re-brand - a costly process for any business - which it could have done otherwise. For small businesses who haven’t got round to registering their own trade mark yet this should be a wakeup call.
Protect Your Trade Mark
The speed at which a brand can be destroyed is breathtaking, so make sure that your brand is properly protected with all the correct trade marks in place.
To check for free whether your company or product name can be trade marked visit www.trademarkdirect.co.uk.
by Mark Kingsley-Williams, Director of Trade Mark Direct.
Trade Mark Direct(www.trademarkdirect.co.uk) is the UK’s leading online trade mark registration company and in the top three of all UK firms by the number of applications filed each month.
Trade Mark Direct achieves a registration success rate of 98% of applications, providing an easy, straight-forward and stress-free service. Its fees are only payable if the name or brand is able to be registered as a trade mark.