Of course, such positioning is not instantly secured and it takes a significant amount of research, head-scratching, time and money to create an impactful brand. Furthermore, once you’ve created a successful brand, other businesses may try to associate themselves with your brand by imitating various aspects to help boost their business, thereby damaging your brand’s reputation and distinctive quality and having a long-term negative impact on business. It therefore makes sense to protect your investment by making sure your brand is properly protected and enforced.
Identify the components of your brand
The first step is to identify any intellectual property (IP) within your brand. This can be anything from your trading name and logo, to the design of your products and website. Essentially, if you have created something unique, there is likely to be IP associated with it.
However, just because you commissioned something or are using it, does not mean that you necessarily own the relevant IP. As well as identifying what IP is relevant to your business, it is therefore also important to ascertain who created the various components of your brand, and whether you have the right to use them. How to copyright a logo UK
Who created the IP within your brand?
If you or your employees create something for your business then it is likely that you will own the relevant IP. However, if you engage a third party company or individual to work for you and create items on your behalf then, unless you have a written agreement in place with them, it is likely that they will own the IP they create. This is the case even if you pay in full for the work done. It’s therefore important to put in place contracts with your design agencies that clearly state who owns the IP in anything they create for you. Once you’ve done this, the universal copyright symbol ©, together with the owner’s name and date, should be added to any of the original information on your website to give people notice of your rights.
Protecting your IP
Protecting your IP allows you to stop others using what you’ve created without your permission and charge others for the right to use what you’ve created. Once you’ve identified your IP and confirmed that you own it, the next stage it to ensure you have adequate protection for it. This is when you should talk to your lawyer about the possibility of registering your trade marks and any design rights. Dealing with this early-on will help you avoid a situation where you are prevented from using and protecting elements of your brand that you have invested in simply because someone else got there first.
Developing a new brand name? Here are some tips on how to give it the best start in life
When developing a new brand name, the first step is to clear your brand name for use and a good place to start is Google. By conducting online searches for your proposed brand name you can see if and how it is already in use. If someone is already using your chosen name for a related business, it is probably going to be best to choose a new name.
You should also engage your lawyer to search relevant trade mark registries and conduct a full clearance search, which includes: a thorough review of your goods and/or services of interest; a search of the relevant trade mark registers; a search for any unregistered trade mark use as demonstrated in online databases; and a full report with recommendations based on search results on how to proceed.
Once you have cleared your brand name for use, you should register it as a trade mark in order to protect it. A registered trade mark gives you the monopoly right to use a name in relation to the goods and services for which it is registered. As long as you keep using and renewing it, the registration can last forever.
It’s worth noting that registering your company with Companies House does not give you any trade mark protection, nor does owning the website address. To protect your brand name effectively you need to register it as a trade mark.
Established brand? You’ll need to protect it with an enforcement strategy
Once you have registered the relevant trade marks you can take targeted action in respect of infringements and conflicting trade mark applications in order to maintain the distinctiveness of your brand and protect and enhance its value. Types of infringement include: counterfeits, domain name infringements, competing businesses using the same or similar names, and online advertising.
In order to do this, you should create an enforcement strategy detailing how you plan to search for infringements and what manner of enforcement you will use if and when you find them. Developing a strategy in the early stages will help you focus your time and efforts on what is really important. This will give you the best chance of maintaining a properly protected brand with the minimum of hassle.
Summary of IP protection for brands
There are a range of legally recognised systems that enable businesses to protect their IP and stop others from copying or piggybacking on their good names.
- Registered Trade Mark – distinguishes your goods and services from those of your competitors and can be words, logos, shapes, colours or even sounds;
- Unregistered Trade Mark – an automatic, local right acquired through use of a trade mark (usually a name) that allows you to prevent other people passing off their goods and services as your own;
- Registered Design – a registered right which protects the overall visual appearance of a product;
- Unregistered Design Right – automatic protection for the internal or external shape or configuration of an original design;
- Copyright – automatic protection for original literary, artistic and musical creations, along with other categories of creative endeavour. Logos, jingles, labels and packaging, etc. may be afforded copyright protection;
- Patent – protects new inventions and covers how things work, what they do, how they do it, etc; and
- Domain Name – a unique address that identifies and permits access to specific websites.
Louisa Dixon is a senior associate at Taylor Vinters LLP with a specialism in brand protection.
Share this story