Every company has a trade mark. You can’t trade without one – how else would your existing customers find you again and how would new customers find you in the first place?
Some trade marks are so valuable, it is near impossible to put a price on them. How much would someone pay to be the only one allowed to use Coca Cola for fizzy drinks? Or Microsoft for computers?
Most trade marks, of course, are not as valuable as Coca Cola or Microsoft, but, still, your mark is an asset that should be protected against potential misuse by others.
Think – if someone else used your trade mark (or even a similar mark), would your customers (or potential new customers) be confused? And would that confusion be detrimental to your business?
If just one sale is lost because someone has bought goods from another company thinking that they are your goods, or if you are a service provider and you lose out on work that should have come to you because one of your competitors has used your mark or something similar, that is already too much lost business. If confusion arises, you will not lose just the one sale.
So, what do you do to protect your trade mark?
First, let’s get a couple of common misconceptions out of the way:
The fact that your trade mark is part of your registered company name is no help at all. Registering a company name gives you no rights other than to stop someone else registering the exact same name at Companies House.
If you need to stop someone from using a trade mark that is the same or similar to your mark, your company name registration is no basis of an objection.
Similarly, you might have a domain name. Again, this will not be of much help in the event of a dispute.
In the UK, trade mark rights are acquired through use or trade mark registration.
Rights acquired through use are not very reliable – they are difficult to prove and expensive to enforce. You should not rely on unregistered rights if you are serious about protecting your trade mark.
If the question is “How do I best protect my trade mark?”, the answer is registration. Trade Marks can be registered at the Patent Office which is based in Newport, South Wales and this will provide protection of the mark in the UK.
If your business extends to Europe, you can obtain a Community Trade Mark which protects your mark for all EU countries. For other countries, it is possible to obtain local national registrations or, in some instances, what is known as an International Registration (a single registration that extends to a number of countries). It is important to note that you will benefit from registration only in the countries where your trade mark is registered.
Once a trade mark is registered, the owner of the registration can stop others from using the mark (or a mark that is similar to the mark as registered) and, just as important, registration can help you to avoid problems that will arise if someone else registers your mark (or a similar mark) before you do.
It should be noted that in most instances your prior use of a mark will not help you if someone else gets a registration. If you have not registered first, you could be stopped from using your trade mark if someone else obtains a registration.
The registration of trade marks can sometimes get complicated and it is essential that you get it right at the beginning. Mistakes made at the outset cannot be rectified later on, and this could have a detrimental effect on your ability to enforce the protection of your mark.
It is therefore advisable to obtain expert advice on the filing of your mark and qualified trade mark attorneys can help to ensure that you get it right.
Although the registration of trade marks can be complicated, it need not be expensive. The official fees for a UK registration are just £200, and for a Community Trade Mark they can be less than £1000.
Costs for other countries vary. Once granted, a registration will last initially for 10 years and, subject to paying renewal fees thereafter, they can remain in force forever.
Trade Mark Attorneys can be found throughout the UK. The professional body - the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys' website
- has a search facility on its front page that allows you to find fully qualified trade mark attorneys by county, city or postcode.
For other advice and assistance in respect of the protection of your trade mark or any brand-related issues, contact Groom Wilkes & Wright. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on 01462 714300. They will be happy to provide preliminary advice without any charge or commitment. For more information, visit www.gwwtrademarks.com