One of the most effective ways to protect your brand is to register a trademark. The process can seem confusing, causing many business owners to hire a solicitor before attempting to learn about the process on their own. However, with a little understanding, most can avoid these fees and file the application themselves.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is legal protection for intellectual property. It safeguards your brand so that you can take legal action if another person or company attempts to use a part of your branding without your permission. Any symbol or design that is unique to your business or distinguishes you from others in your sector is eligible for trademark with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO).
Why should I register a trademark?
When you register a trademark, you’ll be able to take legal action against anyone using your brand without your permission. This includes counterfeiters. If you have a trademark, you’re also able to put the ® symbol next to your brand, which will warn away others who attempt to take it. It also shows legitimacy to potential customers. Once your brand is trademarked, you’re then able to sell and license your brand to other shops.
What can I trademark?
- Words or phrases (example: McDonald’s ‘i’m lovin’ it’)
- Sounds (example: the music played before a 20th Century Fox film)
- Logos, pictures, and symbols (example: the NIKE swoosh)
- Colours (like Cadbury purple)
- A combination of the above
What can I not trademark?
- Offensive content
- A generic term that describes your product or service e.g. the word ‘shoes’ could not be a part of the trademark for a footwear company
- Misleading words e.g. if your brand is not organic, you wouldn’t be able to include that word in your trademark
- A phrase that is too generic, like the common statement ‘the world’s best’
- Any image or symbol that is overtly similar to a state symbol such as a flag
How to register a trademark
First, you’ll want to check that the trademark you intend to use does not already exist within your class or other similar classes (more on this later!). If you do find someone in a similar category using the mark you wish to file for, you can ask that company for a ‘letter of consent,’ however, this can be difficult to acquire. A lot of the time when this happens businesses will choose to rebrand or alter the trademark they wish to file.
You’ll then want to make a decision on whether you wish to file the application yourself or hire a trademark attorney. The majority of trademark requests are simple, but if you have a unique situation or just prefer to save time and hire someone else, an attorney is a good option. If your situation is straightforward and keeping costs low is important to you, it is definitely possible to do it on your own. There are many forums and articles available on the internet to help you through the process.
You will file your trademark request with the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO). Simply follow the link and click on the green “Apply now” button.
Once you start the application process you’ll be asked to enter a series of information about yourself and your brand, including your name, postal address (ensure this is one you have easy access to, as this is where your documents will be sent), brand name, desired trademark type, and to submit any relevant pictures or documents.
At some point in the application process, you’ll be asked whether you intend to file a single trademark or a series. Most often, business owners need only a single trademark, however, if you have several variations that you use, you’ll want to file a series which costs an additional £50 per variation.
You’ll need to declare which class your trademark belongs to. In the UK there are 45 ‘classes’ of trademark, 34 for goods and 11 for services. A ‘class’ is a group of products that are from a similar area of trade, for example, class 25 is for clothing, footwear, and headwear. When you file for a trademark you will file for the categorie(s) that apply to your brand. Classes are not always obvious or straightforward, and your business could fall under more than one class. TMclass is a free online tool that can help you identify which classes your goods or services may fall under. Multiple companies can exist with the same name within different and mutually exclusive classes. For example, Apple is a trademark that falls under many tech-related classes, but someone could, in theory, start a brand of baby clothing (for example) and call it Apple. Classes are one of the most important parts of the application, so if you have trouble finding your relevant class it may be best to speak with a lawyer.
How much does it cost?
There are two types of examinations (this is what UKIPO calls the application review process), Standard and Right start.
At the time of this post, it costs £170 to file a standard online application If you want to apply to multiple classes it will cost an additional £50 per class.
Right start will cost £200 in total (plus £50 for each additional class). With Right start you will pay £100 upfront and then if your application is rejected you do not need to pay the rest of the balance. Right start is a great option if you are nervous about your application decision, as if you are denied you can restart your application without having paid the full amount.
How long does it take?
Completing your trademark application shouldn’t take you more than a few hours. Once you’ve submitted, it can take up to 4 months if there are no objections to your registration, and even longer if there are. Your trademark will last for 10 years before you’ll need to repeat the process again.
What can I do if someone copies my brand?
It is important to regularly monitor your trademark and ensure that no one is infringing upon it. This is important because if another brand successfully uses your trademark for long enough you may not have a strong case against them. If you have trademark protection and discover that someone has been using your brand, you are advised to consult a legal professional as soon as possible.