Incorporating a limited company is one of the most effective ways of securing your business name. It means that nobody else can register a company using that witty name you’ve been sitting on for years before you’ve had a chance to get things off the ground. But it’s a common misconception that registering a name with Companies House brings with it all worldly rights to the name.
To achieve a total lockdown of your brand, we need to venture into the murky realm of Trademarking.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is a type of protection for intellectual property that can be applied to company names, product names and logos.
The registration of a trademark prevents anybody else from using the mark in relation to specific goods or services. It may be necessary to register multiple trademarks in order protect all aspects of your brand, for example; you may need one for the company name, one for the logo and another for the main product name.
Why do you need a trademark?
The name of the game when it comes to trademarking is leverage. Registering your intellectual property as a trademark gives you the necessary legal sway to take action against anybody who infringes it – in other words, anybody who copies or steals it.
Let’s say you have built a business over a number of years – developed a strong visual identity, acquiring a loyal customer base and a reputation along the way. What is to stop any of your competitors from using your ingenious logo for their own branding?
The answer is…nothing! Unless that is, you were really on the ball and trademarked your logo.
How to apply for a trademark
In the UK, trademarks are registered through the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). And although it is possible to register through the IPO directly, the general consensus is that if you have the budget to do so, you should hire a trademark attorney/solicitor to assist with your application.
There are many legal pitfalls to fall foul of when registering a trademark. From the perspective of the IPO, trademarks serve to distinguish one business from another and avoid confusion wherever possible for consumers.
When registering a company name with Companies House (the UK’s registrar of companies), the only consideration is whether the name is the same as, or similar to an existing company name; when registering a trademark, additional consideration is given to phonetic, visual and conceptual similarities.
This means a name that is accepted for incorporation by Companies House may not always be accepted as a trademark by the IPO. A company name may not qualify as a trademark for any of the following reasons:
- It is not considered distinctive
- It is a descriptive word or term
- It may indicate geographical origin
- It may already be registered in someone else’s name
A trademark attorney will be able navigate these complexities for you and also conduct a far more comprehensive search for potential infringements that could be problematic for you in the future.
Trademarking if you’re on a budget
Let’s face it, most startups operate on a shoestring. And if you can’t afford to hire a trademark attorney, all is not lost. You can register your trademarks yourself, but you need to be vigilant and take extra care to avoid causing any unnecessary problems for yourself later down the line.
Before you go any further, you need to make sure that your name/logo actually qualifies as a trademark. See here for details on what you can and cannot register.
Once you are certain that you have a registrable mark, there are three main steps you need to follow:
1) Consider which specific services/goods you would like your trademark to relate to. You must specify at least one class but you can attribute your trademark to additional classes of services/goods on your application (for an extra fee). You cannot change this later so make sure you cover all the areas that relate to your company.
The various classifications used by the IPO for trademarking are outlined here.
2) Check for existing trademarks you might possibly infringe with the registration of your own Trademark. The IPO has this useful tool for conducting clearance searches.
Remember, the IPO’s main focus is to prevent confusion between two brands. Ask yourself whether your name or logo runs the risk of being confused with any existing trademarks, and you stand a good chance of avoiding any major infringements.
3) Apply for your trademark. You can apply online here.
The fee for a standard application is £170 plus £50 per each additional class – i.e. £50 per each additional class of service/goods your trademark relates to.
Alternatively, the IPO offer a service called “Right Start”, which allows you to check whether your company meets the rules for registration. The fee is £100 plus £25 per each additional class for the initial check, and then a further £100 plus £25 per each additional class if you decide to proceed with the registration.
Trademarking is an essential practice to be aware of if you wish to protect your ideas from the competition. Although this post has only covered the tip of the trademarking iceberg, hopefully it will help you take the steps necessary to avoid any unnecessary disputes in the future.
We hope you’ve found this post useful. Keep an eye on the blog for more small business hints and tips.