Following on from the recent article published here on The Next Web about protecting your brand in the U.S, we thought you may like to get the low down on how to protect your brand in the UK.
Branding can be about slogans, logos, product or service names, business names and even colours. For example, what world famous social network comes to mind when you see a certain tone of blue, and which well known VOIP service is instantly recognisable when by their use of a paler shade of blue?
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Branding can make up a significant proportion of value for a company on their balance sheet. Intangible assets such as your brand can be highly lucrative and are often built up over time by a business, through clever and consistent marketing campaigns and market reputation.
If you and your business want to nurture a brand, you need to consider protecting it through use of trade marks and smart intellectual property management strategies. To that end, here is a low down on what you need to know about protecting your brand(s) in the UK via the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in a handy bite sized article. But before we get into the world of trade marks for brands, it’s important to note the need to register your company’s’ name.
Registering your company name – Think Companies House
In the UK, when you wish to incorporate a limited company, you need to register your company name with Companies House. Once your application is approved, the company name is yours and yours alone. This means that no one else can register a limited company with an identical name.
To find out more about the process and cost of registering a company name and for other related information, visit the Companies House website for details.
Registering your brand name (or logo) – Think Intellectual Property Office
To obtain a registered trade mark that offers brand name protection in the UK, you need to apply to Intellectual Property Office or, if you want Europe wide protection, at the Community Trade Marks Office also known as OHIM (based in Alicante, Spain).
In the UK, trade marks can be words, phrase (slogans), symbols, sounds and logos (or a combination of any of these) that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of another. As mentioned earlier, trade marks can hold huge intangible value and therefore can be sold as corporate assets by a business at a later date if it so wanted to.
There’s no legal requirement that forces you to trade mark your business or brand name (logo). In fact, you can have what are known as ‘common law’ rights to your business name without formally registering it. Of course, trade mark law is complex and just using the words or registering a company at Companies House, or printing out business cards doesn’t automatically grant you common law rights. In general, in order to submit a claim against someone else for using an unregistered trade mark (known as ‘passing off’), you need to demonstrate the name, words or logo has reputation; there has been confusion in the marketplace and as a result, some harm has been done to that reputation. Not easy, and can be a costly and timely endeavour.
You can learn more about trade marks and all other types of IP, at the IPO website.
Why register a trade mark? – Think about benefits
By registering for a trade mark, you’ll be eligible for several benefits, including:
- The right to use the registered trade mark symbol ‘®’ alongside your trade mark
- The ability to register your trade mark with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), to help prevent importation of counterfeit goods bearing that trade mark into the UK
- Significantly stronger protection than ‘common law’ (a.k.a. unregistered) marks, making it much easier protect your brand, like if someone starts to use your registered trade mark as their Twitter handle.
- The capability to build up your brands reputation that serves as a badge of authenticity and quality which your customers will look for and learn to spot, and your customers will envy and unable to copy.
- Use your registered trade mark (brand) as a barrier to market entry, as it serves as a powerful tool to retain customers and drive new business.
How do I register a trade mark in the UK? – Think about applying
Like the previous article mentions about registering a trade mark in the U.S, we also recommend that you perform a FREE trade mark search to make sure your proposed mark is available. If the search does not bring back any marks that are the same of similar, then consider whether the trade mark is distinctive. Why? So for example if your name describes what you do, consists of just your geographical location, is a laudatory word (think long lasting for batteries!), then your trade mark application might be rejected right away ⎯ meaning you’ll lose your application fee and all the time invested in the application.
As for fees, it’s as little as £170 (for online filing) for one class that your trade mark falls under (add £50 for each additional class), and the process can take anywhere from 4-8 months once you submit your application. Incase your wondering, a ‘class’ of goods relates to the groups of products or services trade marks are set in. This means that if you want to register the trade mark ‘The Web After Next’ in Class 42 – Computing, but Mr T N Web has already registered the same mark in Class 25 – clothing and Footwear, you may still be able to register it.
If you think you need advice on how to secure a trade mark, try finding and using a trade mark attorney via the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (ITMA), or speak to a solicitor found via the Law Society.
While this process is more involved than registering a company name at Companies House, rights to your brand will be much stronger and this can save you a ton in legal fees later down the road. It can also bring about range of business opportunities and value to your balance sheet.
FREE ‘Get It Right – First Time’ events
If you are looking for more advice and support on brands and trade marks, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and Companies House are running a NEW series of FREE events across the UK this year.
Starting in Liverpool on April 3, the ‘Get It Right – First Time’ half-day sessions will help you get to grips with trade marks and all other types of Intellectual Property (patents, designs, copyright). These seminars will also walk you through the responsibilities of a first time director including registering a company name with Companies House. The independent experts from the IPO and Companies House will be on hand to answer your questions as well.
To find out more about these events, including how to register for your local event and which cities they can be found in – visit: www.ipo.gov.uk/getitright.
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