Sales & Marketing

A beginner's guide to trademarks

6 min read

17 April 2011

A business can stand or fall by its name and logo. Here's how to protect yours.

A recent survey by the Intellectual Property Office revealed that 85 per cent of small firms are failing to keep their ideas secure. Here’s my top tips for protecting your company’s crown jewels.

Don’t delay 

It is essential to protect your brand from day one. Too many businesses put it off until it is too late and someone else has already registered the company or product name they have been using. They then have to rebrand and start trading under a new name, which can be a very costly process.

Don’t just register your company or product name with Companies House as this does not give you any trademark protection, nor does owning the website address. You need to register your name and logo with the Intellectual Property Office. 

The value of your brand name 

Even if your product isn’t an international sensation (yet), the name it is registered under as a trademark could become incredibly valuable if a competitor wants to use it. 

Do your searches 

Make sure that there is not a similar name, symbol or phrase already trademarked or in widespread use. To do this, you can search the Intellectual Property Office’s (IPO) database

This can be time consuming, but it is essential to ensure that you are not inadvertently taking someone else’s trademark. DIY searches on the IPO will only bring up direct matches, so are not fool-proof. Having just one letter or number different is not enough. 

Recently, an Essex restaurant was forced to change its signage after a complaint by Harrods department store, who argued that the signage’s lettering bore too close a resemblance to its own logo. “This could wrongly suggest some association between our organisations,” Harrods argued. The cost to owner, Nigel Holland, was in the region of £10,000.

This case and the recent case of “Dave’”, the popular satellite TV station, having to change its name after a counter action by another company already trading as “Dave”, highlights the need for anyone applying for a registered trademark to ensure they conduct proper searches.

The class system

Two companies can own the same trademark as long as they are registered for different products. To make sense of what products are similar the trademark registries operate a system of classes. 

Use a designer with trademark knowledge 

Brand naming is not a random activity – you need to make sure that you are aware of the basics of trademark law and also use designers who understand trade mark registration to save yourself hundreds or maybe thousands or pounds in the long run.

Make up a name!

One of the easiest ways to achieve a successful trade mark application is to use a made-up name, ie: Viagra, Prius and Yakult.

Don’t be too literal or descriptive with your company or product name. Designer Leather Bags won’t be accepted, nor will misspelt words such as Letha Bagz. And including famous names or brands are out, for example Penny’s Prada Shop. 

Google Ad Words – watch your back!

Make sure that your brand values are not being used for a competitor’s advantage.

An example of this is the current dispute between Interflora and Mark and Spencer (M&S). M&S has been paying Google to have its flower business promoted every time a consumer searches for ‘Interflora’. Interflora are now taking this ‘piggy-backing’ action to a European court. 

If your business name is properly trade mark registered you can file a complaint to Google, and this should stop companies using your business name in their advert. Unfortunately, they are still able to bid on your company name as a keyword. 

Think ahead

A registered trademark lasts for ten years before renewal fees are due, and once it’s registered you cannot increase the scope. So if you currently only sell clothing but are harbouring a desire to expand to make-up, then it’s worth applying for that class, otherwise you have to start and fund a second application from scratch. 

Protect your trademark

The speed at which a brand can be destroyed is breathtaking, so make sure that your brand is properly protected with all the correct trademarks in place.

Mark Kingsley-Williams is director of Trade Mark Direct, an online trademark registration company in the top three of all UK firms by the number of applications filed each month.