Brands, and especially the symbols and names that represent them, are major business assets. All your PR and marketing efforts focus around them. They need to be protected. Anyone can ‘trade mark ™’ or ‘copyright ©’ an original idea. However, these are self-asserted claims that say ‘keep off’ but have little force. A registered trade mark ®, on the other hand, has statutory protection.
Ten Things You Should Do
- Audit your brand identifiers. Develop an overall IP strategy. Decide which symbols and names have real meaning to your customers, project the right image and appropriate positioning. Consider deleting or redesigning trade marks that don’t fit.
- Brainstorm and test. If developing new brand symbols, then brainstorm ideas and refine them to three good ones. Test these with customers to see which one they like the most.
- Professional design. Always use design professionals for new branding and to define the design standards of existing trade marks. Have a look at the Corporate Identity Checklist for more information on design, size, colour, standards and multimedia use.
- Seek cover. The official search and registration process can take several months. While you are waiting, use ™ if you feel you need this; many people do not realise that ™ gives little real protection but are often deterred by it.
- Free search service. Use the free trade mark search facility at the Patent Office to check for conflicts with existing registered trade marks in the same area of business.
- Company name research. Check Companies House to see if anyone has registered a business in the name or something similar to the one you intend to use.
- Internet research. Use Google, Yahoo and other search engines to make more free checks for similar conflicts or unfortunate associations with brands, companies and organisations. As the internet is key to a business also check with the UK web domain register Nominet on the availability of web address names.
- Paid pre-registration search. If all the above are clean, consider asking the Patent Office to do a pre-registration search. This will tell you whether the design is able to be registered and will also provide wider checks against international registers.
- Register. If the pre-registration search does not show any conflicts, proceed to full registration specifying carefully the business areas) in which you will use the trade mark. Examination of the application by a trade marks officer may take several weeks. It will speed the process if you tell them about any pre-registration searches they have already done for you. You will be advised of any conflicts and how to amend the application. After successful examination the mark is published in the Trade Marks Journal and must stand for three months without objection before the certificate is issued.
- Consider using a Patent Agent. Registration is fairly simple, but a patent agent has the experience to avoid pitfalls and smooth the process. Visit The Chartered Institute of Patent Agents for more information.
Five Things You Should Not Do
- Don’t fall in love with the first symbol, design or name you like. You will probably be investing a great deal of money and time in your trade mark and you will have to live with your decision for a long time.
- Don’t encroach on the symbols or wording of an existing brand. Even if you are in a totally different field of business to the owners of the conflicting brand, it is likely corporate lawyers will become involved – and that could be expensive in terms of wasted time, energy and money!
- Don’t be too clever. Simplicity often works best. Always remember how and where you will use your trade mark – and especially who it is aimed at.
- Don’t allow trespassers. If it looks as if someone is trying to encroach on your identity take action to stop them. Patent agents are especially useful at spotting these infringements.
- Don’t forget to renew. Registration is only valid for 10 years before renewal is necessary.