What are trademarks?

A trademark is used to identify goods and services and protect their association with a particular company.  A trademark might protect a brand name, a logo or particular word or colour associated with your company.  Even a particular smell can be trademark.

It is important to protect trademarks because they help make your brand visible and unique, which is indispensible to building up brand image and loyalty.  As the owner of a trademark, you are in a position to sell, mortgage or license it.

How can a trademark be registered?

To register a trademark, you must make an application to the UK Intellectual Property Office.  You will only be allowed to register the trademark if it unique and does not relate to a particular good or service for which a trademark has already been registered.

When can a trademark be registered ?

For a trademark to be registrable, it must have distinctive character.  This can be quite difficult to define sometimes.  If a word has not previously been defined in the dictionary, then it can be registered.  Words which also appear in the dictionary can be registered so long as the word is meaningless in the context in which it is used.  Marks, can also be registered in tandem.  If, for example, your business uses a certain wording alongside a certain logo or symbol, and that usage is distinct, then those two things together might be registrable.

I want to register my trademarks.  How can I do this?

First of all, it needs to be established that the idea is unique enough to be claimed as your own.  Remember the recent dispute over the use of apple trademarks between apple computers and apple records?

If you have a unique trademark, then it needs to be registered with the UK Intellectual Property Office who will conduct investigations to ascertain the uniqueness of the idea, whether there are any competing claims etc.  Again, an intellectual property solicitor will provide invaluable assistance in making your claim and finding ways to get around any potential brick walls you hit.

How long does it take to register a trademark ?

Generally speaking, it takes about nine months to register a trademark.  However, if there is a dispute over your application, it could take longer.

How long does trademark protection last for ?

Trademark protections lasts for ten years.  After ten years, you will have to make another application

In what circumstance will trademarks be infringed ?

According to the Trade Marks 1994, “a person infringes a registered trade mark if he uses in the course of trade a sign which is identical with the trade mark in relation to goods or services which are identical with those for which it is registered”  If someone use a sign, symbol or words that are similar to a registered trademark such that the public could be confused between the two, then the owner of the registered trademark has a possible claim.

Can the rights of unregistered trademark holders be infringed ?

The law of unregistered trademarks is quite complicated and is governed by the common law (judge made law) instead of statute law (government made law).  The area of law that governs the wrongful use of unregistered trademarks is called ‘passing off’.  This area of the law prohibits persons from purporting to offer another business’s services or goods as his own or appearing to have an association with another’s services or goods where this is not in fact true.

Protecting a Trademark

The trademark becomes more valuable over time the more you use it. The value of the names and brands can only be protected by trademark registration.

If the trademark is not protected, someone else may take advantage of it or it may already belong to someone else and you could be building up goodwill in a trademark you do not even own.

Registering a trademark gives the owner special right to use the name and to prevent others from using it for similar business.

Important issues to bear in mind:

•             A trademark protects the brand name, or any sign or symbol that allows your customers to differentiate your business or goods from your competitors. You can register a name, logo, slogan or strap line.

•             The trademark must be distinctive. It must not be similar or identical to any mark that already exists for the same goods or services.

•             Consider applying for a registration of your trademark. It should be renewed every 10 years to keep it in force.

•             Trademark guarantees the quality of the goods

For further advice or information about trademarks or IP rights, visit Darlingtons Solicitors in London, who provide a full range of cost effective business advice.