What you need to know about trade marks as a UK small business

In April 2021 we all had ringside seats to the battle royale of teatime treats – Colin vs Cuthbert. Not often do we see such a high-profile case in the news illustrating how important brand protection is. Many small business owners may feel like trade marks are for large corporations or heavily branded products but this simply isn’t true.


Owning a maintained trade mark not only protects your company’s assets, encourages innovation, gives you a competitive edge and builds credibility; it can also even increase the intrinsic value of your company. To understand if a trade mark would benefit you, we’ll go through the essentials here.


What is a trade mark?


To decide whether a trade mark could help your business you need to be very clear on what can be trade marked. The definition is wider than you might expect. You can trade mark any of the following; word(s), logo, monogram, shape, letter(s), numeral(s), signature, service or any combination of these. In your application you will have criteria to meet, a trade mark professional will be able to advise details and recommend if they believe your application will be successful.


What is the process to apply for a trade mark in the UK?


The process begins with a form that details exactly what you would like to trade mark. Then a search is done to check your mark is not infringing on any existing marks. If the search returns no issues with infringement, then the application can be submitted to the IPO (Intellectual Property Office) to make it official.


This takes about 6 months from start to finish however your mark is enforceable from the day you submit the application. Finally, we recommend having a ‘Watching Service’ put in place, this is separate to the trade mark application. A ‘Watching Service’ will be carried out by a trade mark professional and will ensure no new applications infringe on your mark. This service is essential to keeping your trade mark maintained and enforceable.


Why should I get a trade mark?


When weighing up whether to trade mark your business’ assets it may be difficult to get a handle on the exact ROI (Return Of Investment). In a similar way to insurance, marking your assets can be seen as building a solid foundation for your venture and will have various benefits over time. These may include:


• Legal recourse if another company infringes on your IP (Intellectual Property).

• If you are a small business and another larger business decides to take action against you, a trade mark will prove ownership and prevent a potentially lengthy & costly legal battle.

• Building a distinct identity for your brand / business.

• Full, secure ownership over your brand, logo, name etc.

• You can’t be forced to change your branding, which could be costly and could confuse consumers.

• Prestige and status within your industry.

• Acts as a deterrent to copy-cats.

• Promotion of R&D within your company.

• Increases the market value of your business and adds to your asset sheet.

• Gives you a competitive edge.

• Licensing opportunities.

• Having a UK registered trade mark makes it easier to apply for marks in other countries.


How long does a UK trade mark last?


A UK trade mark lasts 10 years and then has to be renewed. You have a 6 month grace period either side of this timeframe to renew your mark. If you are renewing outside of this time frame you may be able to reinstate the mark however it is riskier. Having a Watching Service is also essential for maintaining the validity of your trade mark, if the mark is considered to have become ‘generic’ and you haven’t prevented this by taking action against infringements, trade mark status is lost.


How much does a UK trade mark cost?


You can apply directly to the IPO for a reduced cost however there is no guarantee that your application will be successful so working with a trade mark professional is advisable. They will be able to guide you through the process, take care of the time consuming administration and be able to provide feedback to ensure your application is successful. Initial searches cost around £100-£150 and a full application with one class included is approx. £499.


Summary


In recent years the amount of trade marks submitted has increased by 10% year on year, with an emphasis on small businesses and start-ups being the most likely to apply. This is a consequence of small business owners understanding the value of having a unique and protected brand and all the benefits that come with it.


If you would like to find out more about trade marks please contact Start.biz (NBR) 0800 069 9090 or email info@start.biz to speak to our experts. www.start.biz


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