SME brands might be at risk of trademark trolls, brand clashes, and unexpected court battles. We sat down with Jon Paton, Director at The Trademark Helpline to discuss how SMEs can protect their brand and their reputation by getting their trademark registered as soon as possible.
Helping business owners across the UK, The Trademark Helpline has registered over 2,500 trademarks in its 12 years of trading. The business offers free, impartial advice to SMEs who might not know how important a trademark is or are unsure how to get their brand registered. It’s becoming more important than ever for UK entrepreneurs to register their brands or renew their existing trademarks. Brexit has made it necessary for businesses to be registered separately for both the UK and EU market. With a background in financial services, Paton helped set up and grow the company into the one of the largest registrars of trademarks in the country. The Trademark Helpline has built an established network of contacts around the world, with suppliers that can help secure trademark registrations for companies in any jurisdiction they are looking to expand into, ranging from the USA to the UAE.
“We’ve been an established source of information and advice for over twelve years and over two and a half thousand customers have registered trademarks through us, so we have considerable expertise to help any business.”
Paton is looking forward to expanding the helpline’s network across the UK, planning a significant recruitment process to establish one hundred regional managers over the next two years. As many companies dial back their face-to-face sales and even consider cutting down their number of regional sales managers thanks to the development of hybrid working and digital tools, Paton believes that having local representatives of The Trademark Helpline will help the business expand its reach and network, connecting with SMEs that may not know the risks of operating under an unregistered trademark and brand.
“The model we pioneered is super simple. We do an initial search, which allows us to put together a detailed Intellectual Property report and details all potential issues a business might have when trying to register. We then provide guidance on the likelihood of a trademark being approved, taking into account a company’s budget, and considering alternative avenues. As well as trademarking a name, our customers trademark logos, designs, images and even taglines. We want to be the first touchpoint for any trademark enquiries. If it’s something we can’t help you with, we can put you in touch with the right people.”
What are the risks of forgoing registering your brand as a trademark?
Trademark trolling or trademark squatting is on the rise. Though it isn’t a hugely common business scam, Paton has known a few small businesses and franchises that have fallen foul to this particular con. A person can easily find out if a business has not registered their brand or name as a trademark. They then often pay less than £500 to register the trademark themselves and then threaten the original business to stop trading under the trademark they now own. Typically, the opportunist will try to sell the registered trademark back to the business for thousands of pounds. It puts companies, especially small, family-run businesses, at risk of losing the right to trade under a brand they might have had for years. It can result in a costly court battle or having to re-brand entirely, which can have a reputational and financial impact on any enterprise which is why frustratingly that often the right advice is to pay the opportunist.
“If you have something unique and you can prove that you’re using it and you know you are legally in the strongest position, you might have the better case for entitlement to the trademark in court. Legally, it should come down to who on paper is the registered owner of the trademark, but courts can spot when someone has taken advantage of someone else’s intellectual property. But when it comes to risk vs reward the court costs may be greater than the amount the company is being asked to pay. Obviously, the easiest solution is to just invest the money and register your trademark as soon as you can afford to.”
A standard trademark registration in the UK lasts for ten years, so gaining professional advice through experts like The Trademark Helpline and purchasing the correct trademark would be a worthwhile investment, working out as less than £5 per month for valuable protection.
Personal trademark registrations have increased, as social media influencers and celebrities build their own brands, usually closely associated to their online status and their own names. As celebrities like the Kardashians and Beckham family branch out into multiple sectors with a variety of businesses, ensuring that their public identity is protected is incredibly important.
The initial expense can be a little daunting, especially for internet businesses that might be one person selling their products entirely through social media sites like Instagram. Paton’s advice is to still do the research, keep business records, make sure that the brand you have developed is unique and once the capital is there, invest in getting the trademark registered when you can afford to.