How to safeguard your business’ future with a trademark

William Berry on why rushing to the Intellectual Property Office could be the best thing you do for your business

Imagine you’ve worked for years on an ingenious product design or a hip new concept for a business. And now imagine that someone steals your idea.

For someone who has spent years perfecting a plan, not just for a shop or designing of a prototype, but for their future business and life, this could be a soul destroying moment which is why protecting your intellectual property is so important.

Patents are effectively a licence that gives you the right to be the sole manufacturer, user or distributor of a design or invention for a set amount of time. By enforcing a patent you are registering your authority over a design or idea, although you cannot patent commonplace or everyday objects.

Registering your design

You can register designs and inventions at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and by doing so you are protecting your future revenue streams. In the first five years of the patent it prevents anyone else from using your design, meaning if your product becomes popular you will be the sole manufacturer and no ‘knock-off’ versions can be created.

After five years you are required by the IPO to offer a licence to the design meaning others can copy it but they have to pay you for the privilege.

It is worth noting here that while other companies cannot copy your design exactly, they can create new items or spare parts that fit or match your product. Think for example, about an iPhone; there are lots of non-Apple products out there that are compatible with an iPhone and Apple don’t have the authority to stop them creating these products.

And if they did we would definitely know about it as Apple is vigorous when it comes to protecting its designs.

How to trademark your work properly

It is also strict when it comes to trademarking – another important area for you to consider. If you trademark a name you typically denote this with the registered trademark symbol – an R in a circle. If you have registered your trademark you have a legal right to stop anyone else from using it, however if you simply think putting TM after your logo will suffice, you’re wrong – TM just denotes you’re using this logo or name but not that it’s registered which is the only way to prevent someone from using it.

You must remember though that when it comes to trademarks there is a use it or lose it policy – Gucci has just had its GG logo revoked in the UK on the grounds of non-use.

The world of trademarks can be difficult to navigate, Apple tried to prevent a German café trademarking its own apple-based logo Apfelkind (which translates as Apple Child). US Apple was concerned that people would confuse the logos although the café owner stood firm and Apple withdrew its objection.

When the shoe was on the other foot, the electronics company wasn’t so keen to back down with Apple Corps – the Beatles’ record company – and a 30 year legal battle ensued with the computer giant agreeing to stay out of music and the record label agreeing to stay out of computers. Apple Corps failed to successfully sue Apple computers in 2003 when the latter launched iTunes.

Of course these duelling behemoths have the man power and money to fight their corner, you probably aren’t going to have that power. But their battles illustrate just how valuable trademarking and patenting products, ideas and logos is to a business.

If your head is bursting with enough inventions to make Bill Gates shake in his boots, I suggest you rush straight down to the IPO and protect your ideas, after all it is your future that you are safeguarding.

William Berry is a serial entrepreneur and in 2006 was named a Young Gun by Growing Business. He is the founder-director of accommodationforstudents.com, and Vincentbond.com. William is also CEO of the new video start up p6.com, based in California.

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