What are trade marks? A guide for company owners

trademark limited company

A trade mark is a way of clearly identifying your brand while also legally protecting the trade mark from being used or copied by a rival company to promote their own goods or services. Some trade marks, such as Coca Cola, Apple, Nike etc., are recognised around the globe and have achieved almost iconic status, but you don’t have to be a multi-national company before applying to register a trade mark.

Typically, trade marks are a combination of a particular image with some words, often a slogan – as in Nike’s “Just Do It!” – but sometimes just an image, such as Apple’s distinctive apple symbol with a single bite taken out if it. Numbers are also used in trade marks, as in Levi’s 501jeans. To be eligible for registration, rules set out by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in the UK, stipulate that your trade mark should be legal, distinctive, inoffensive, and not deceptive or misleading in any way.

To register a trade mark in the UK, you need to apply to IPO; for internationally recognised registration, you can apply for European Union TM registration, or international TM registration.

Why it’s important to register your trade mark

Here we look at some of the key benefits of registering your trade mark:

• Having your trade mark registered makes it a lot easier to challenge deliberate as well as innocent infringements by another company.

• If your trade mark isn’t registered, you can still claim for infringement but the claim will be less straightforward and likely to cost more in legal fees to pursue.

• You get to use the instantly recognisable ® symbol with your registered trade mark. This will help to deter any competitors from trying to copy your brand identity.

• The ® symbol also adds credibility to your brand.

• As the owner of a registered trade mark it becomes your intellectual property. This can be sold as a valuable asset if you decide to sell the business in the future.

• A trade mark registration lasts for ten years. You can renew your registration every ten years for a set fee.

How do I register a trade mark?

The process of registering a trade mark with the Intellectual Property Office in the UK is fairly straightforward but it’s important to note that, if successful, your registration can take up to six months to come through.

• If you want to register a trade mark, first check to see a similar one doesn’t already exist. Search for a trade mark on the IPO’s website at [https://trademarks.ipo.gov.uk/ipo-tmtext]

• There are some 45 categories for goods and services to choose from. Make sure you choose the right category for your trade mark.

• Some symbols, including national flags and internationally recognised symbols can’t be registered as a trade mark as they are protected. IPO publishes a list of protected marks on their website.

• Applications with marks or symbols that closely resemble protected marks will be rejected.

• You can apply to register a trade mark online by completing a form and paying the set fee, or fees, as applicable.

• Once your application has been processed, the examiner will publish the mark in the Trade Mark Journal to give third parties the opportunity to raise any objections.

• If successful, full ownership of the registered trade mark will be awarded within 4- 6 months.

If you’re unsure about your application for any reason, you can use the IPO’s Right Start service by paying half the registration fee, in return for which an examiner will check your application and tell you whether it’s suitable for registering or not. Depending on what they say, you may decide to abandon or amend your application. If you do go ahead, you’ll have to pay the rest of the registration fee.

Fees / Further Information

The standard online fee to apply to register a trade mark is £170, and £50 for each additional class. Trade mark renewals are £200, and £50 for each extra class. Here is a full list of fees.

For more information or guidance on unacceptable trade marks, internet domain names, registering your company name and where to seek professional advice, click here.

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