10 Things You Should Know About Trade Marks
When trading in a competitive market alongside many other businesses, what often makes your business stand out is your brand. It’s a valuable business asset and therefore worthy of legal protection by way of trademark registration to prevent other businesses from getting too close, or to avoid rebranding when you encounter a business with the same name. Oliver Tidman, founder of business law firm Tidman Legal, explains the importance of trade marks to start-ups and small businesses.
1. What is a trade mark?
A trade mark is a badge of origin, which distinguishes a trader and his or her products from those of other traders. It can be a word, logo, shape, numerals, signature, and even sounds and smells, or a combination of these. Registering a trade mark grants the owner exclusive rights within a particular industry.
2. What does a trade mark do for your business?
Successful businesses have a strong brand identity and a trade mark is a valuable business asset. It can, for instance, be included on a company’s balance sheet. In many cases where one business sells to another they are buying the brand and its reputation.
3. Does Companies House registration count?
No. Registering your business name at Companies House does not provide trade mark protection. Similarly, registering a domain name does not provide any trade mark protection.
4. Why is it important to have a trade mark?
A registered trade mark protects your business and livelihood. If you don’t secure your trade mark, someone else might and could even force you to rebrand! As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’ and, in my experience, the ‘cure’ is often time-consuming, stressful and costly.
5. What are the benefits of having a trade mark?
In addition to protecting your business identity, it allows you to take action for trade mark infringement against anyone trying to use your name or a similar name for identical or similar products or services. If you only have an unregistered trade mark, it is notoriously difficult and expensive to succeed in a ‘passing off’ action.
6. How do I go about getting a trade mark?
It is important to first check that your proposed name or logo has not already been trademarked or in widespread use.
7. What are the best names to trade mark?
Distinctive or made-up words make the best trade marks. Don’t be too descriptive or literal with your brand or product name.
8. Can I use the TM symbol?
You can use the TM symbol next to unregistered trade marks. However, it is a criminal offence to use the registered trade mark symbol ® where your name or logo is not registered. The ® symbol warns competitors that your mark is registered and also makes them less likely to challenge it.
9. What if my business plans change?
Although you may be a small start-up, this does not mean that you shouldn’t plan for future expansion of your business. Protecting your brand and identity is vital, particularly in the event you wish to sell.
10. How long does a trade mark last?
Once registered, a trade mark lasts for ten years but can be renewed indefinitely.
This article was first published in MADE (Mums and Dads Edinburgh) Magazine.
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