What is a Trademark?
Company Trademarks denote a badge of ownership where a company has created a unique image or label that is recognisable and associated with the company, and helps to distinguish it from another company or trade name within the same sector or outside of it.
Your company trademark can be an incredibly important piece of your company identity. Many new businesses that are going through the company formations process for the first time may already have worked on an ideal trademark for their new company. Others will be concerned with officially registering their company first before working on developing their company trademark. Registering and protecting your company trademark is one of the best advantages of forming your own limited company because your trademark can be linked to your company rather than to you as an individual. Should you ever decide to leave or sell your company, the trademark can remain with the company after you move on.
A trademark can take many forms, so could be a simple icon or image, stylised wording, or a certain combination of shapes, colours sounds and logos that can be used to associate the brand. An example is the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy, the flying lady car ornament that sits on the bonnet of a Rolls Royce.
Trademarks can be registered to protect their use from other companies, and can be registered for individual goods or services, or classes of goods or services. Once a trademark has been officially registered, it cannot be used or copied by anyone other than the company that owns it. However, depending on which class your trademark falls under, it is possible for another company to register a very similar or even identical trademark, but only as long as it is registered in a different class to yours. For example, there are currently 45 different classes to choose from, so you could have three different companies each with a registered Lion trademark, but one company could be Lion catering supplies, the second could be Lion tuition services, and the third could be Lion mechanics van repairs.
Knowing the right class to register your trademark with is very important. Should you register your trademark under an incorrect class, then your trademark could potentially become worthless to you. As there are 45 different classes to choose from, you can find out how to choose the right class for your goods or services here, and also get help with defining your right class should you find it difficult to classify yourself.
Registering a Trademark
When registering a trademark for your business, there are certain rules that must be followed. For example, your trademark cannot include common surnames or geographical names. This can help to avoid customer confusion. You are also prohibited from using anything that could imply any sort of royal patronage or links to the royal family.
For a company that is interested in protecting it’s brand, good name and good standing, it makes sense to register your trademark so it can be protected. Your trademark can last indefinitely, so it can be passed down to future generations along with your company and does not die with you.
To continue to use your protected trademark indefinitely, it must:
- Have fees paid as required to keep it in force (renewed every 10 years)
- Must be identified as a Trademark by ® in some countries
- Must not become generic, such as a noun or verb in common usage
- Used in commerce
Check for any Trademark infringements
Before you attempt to register your own trademark, make sure that your chosen design doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s registered trademark and that you are able to use it freely. Again, this may depend on which trademark class you want to enter, so if someone else already has the same trademark registered in your desired class, you will need to go back to the drawing board and start over again.
To check to see if your trademark is already being used, you can search the UK Government website to search for a trademark. You can use this service to check to see if a similar trade mark to your brand already exists, and find out who owns a particular trade mark. You will be able to search for trade marks by a trade mark number, by a trademark owner, specific keywords, phrases or images. You can also check the Intellectual Property Office’s online journal to find trade mark applications accepted in the last week.
When registering your company trademark, you must also think about how far you want your protection to reach. While you may be operating within the UK right now, should your plans in the future expand to include Europe, or even globally eventually, you will want to make sure your trademark is protected internationally. When you register your trademark you will have the option of protecting it in the UK, throughout the EU, by specifying individual countries, or internationally.
You can check your trademark information and register your trademark here directly online.
Ensure the correct use of your Trademark
Make sure that when you register your trademark, it is used properly. Your trademark is essentially what identifies your goods and services to your customers. Using your trademark incorrectly can lead to damage being done to your company standing and reputation. This is why you must keep a check on any competing companies within your sector to make sure that no-one infringes on your trademark by using a very similar one to yours within the same class or sector and potentially trading off your good name by passing off their goods and services as yours.
Should you discover someone is infringing on your trademark, you can seek the help of a solicitor that specialises in UK trademark infringement to bring charges against that company to cease any infringement.
In the UK, companies need to pay a trademark fee every ten years to keep their trademark in force.
The Intellectual Property Office is responsible for granting Intellectual Property rights in the United Kingdom. Should you need any further information about trademarks and trademark infringement, then it is worth checking their website for help and guidance.