How to register a trademark in the UK: step-by-step guide

Registering a trademark will cost you, but how much will it cost you if you don't? Our step-by-step guide is the simplest way to understand the process.

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So — you’re interested in registering a trademark in the UK?

Registering a trademark is the most effective way to protect your business.

Many entrepreneurs incorrectly assume that registering as a sole trader, registering a domain name, or registering your business with Companies House means that the brand is protected. In reality, applying for a trademark is a separate process, and one that is just as important as the rest.

It can all feel a little confusing to navigate. Third-party providers often take advantage of this uncertainty by charging high rates to oversee it on your behalf. But, submitting a trademark is actually quite straightforward.

In this article, we’ll explain how you do it.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a legally-recognised piece of intellectual property that identifies products or services from a particular source and distinguishes the goods of one enterprise from another.

Typically this would range from your company or business logo, a particular slogan or set of slogans, and any other brand assets you consider paramount to your business.

A registered trade mark protects you from anyone who might want to copy or steal the intellectual property you’ve created for your business, and gives you the right to take legal action if someone attempts to do so. It also allows you to sell or license your brand to third parties if necessary.

It’s the reason why not just anyone can start selling McDonald’s T-Shirts, or selling Starbucks drinks, and allows businesses to carve a space for themselves in an industry or niche so it is well worth the investment to obtain the rights for yours.

How long does it typically take to register a trademark?

How long it takes to complete your filing will differ depending on your unique business attributes. However, most applications take around four months to conclude.

Trademarks, patents and copyright: what’s the difference?

Although trademarks, patents and copyrights are all used to protect certain things, there are a few differences you should know to ensure you choose the right one for what you need to protect.

Trademarks, patents and copyright

  • Trademarks are primarily used for logos and symbols: things you want to be associated with your brand for its long-term reputation and longevity, and you will want to register to have this right officially.
  • Patents are primarily used to protect brand new inventions: If you’ve created something you feel is absolutely brand new, even if it’s a part of something that already exists like a part, or upgrade created by manufacturers.
  • Copyrights are automatic rights which protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. You don’t have to do anything to have this protection and it begins from the moment you complete the work.

How to register your UK trademark (step-by-step)

We’ve broken down the registration process into five painless steps for you to go through:

  • Define your trademark
  • View the trademark register
  • Select your trademark classification
  • Submit your application
  • Address any feedback

1. Define your trademark

First, you need to determine exactly what you want to trademark.

You can cover words, sounds, logos, colours, or a combination of all.

For example:

  • McDonald’s has their logo trademarked, in its signature red and yellow colours, and another trademark for the slogan: “I’m lovin’ it”
  • Tiffany & Co. trademark its colour shade of baby blue/turquoise, and partnered with Pantone to name it: “1837 Blue,” in honour of the company’s founding year.
  • The sound of Homer Simpson saying “D’oh!” is a trademark owned by Twentieth Century Fox.
  • As is the sound of Darth Vaders signature breathing in the Star Wars franchise.

If it’s distinctive enough, you have a good chance of trademarking it. But there are also some limitations as to what your trademark cannot contain, or that you won’t be covered for (either due to it being too ambiguous, unethical or potentially unfair to others).

What can a trademark NOT contain?

Your trademark cannot contain:

  • Generic descriptions of the goods or services it will relate to. For example the word ‘milk’ alone cannot be a trademark for a milk manufacturer.
  • Misleading or incorrect labels. For example, the word ‘vegan’ for a food item that contains animal products
  • Use generic images associated with your trademark. For example, a photo of a diamond for jewellers.
  • Swear words or pornographic images 
  • Be too similar to state symbols i.e flags or hallmarks

2. Explore the trademark register

Next, you need to check that a similar brand design does not already exist – otherwise your application will not be deemed original and will fail at the first hurdle.

Do this easily online by searching the trademark register on the website. Look for an existing logo by either a trademark number, owner, or a keyword search.

Search trademark register

What if my trademark already exists?

Should you find that your design has already been used, there are several options available:

  1. Check if it’s still in commercial use. If a trademark hasn’t been issued publicly for five years or more, or is listed as expired, then appeal to replace it with your own.
  2. Ask the owner to give you their mark. You’ll need a letter of consent from the owner to prove they’re happy for you to take or buy the trademark off them.
  3. Change your classification (if possible). Businesses that operate in a different industry are permitted to have similar trademarks.
  4. Edit your trademark. To avoid this scenario, it’s a good idea to have a couple of different branding options available so you don’t get stuck.

3. Select your trademark classification

Now it’s time to find your branding classification – definable as the class of goods and services that your brand will cover.

The government has designed a specialist trademark searching tool to make this step easier.

Search trademark classes

There are currently 45 classifications across a range of industries: 34 covering goods and products and 11 covering services.

Groupings range from chemical products, such as cleaning sprays (Class 1), to personal hygiene, covering things like shampoos (Class 5).

If you think your brand is applicable to several categories then you need to register in all classes your company will operate in.

If you have similar versions of your trademark, you need to make what’s called a ‘series application’ for up to six marks with the stipulation that the differences between each asset must be minor.

4. Submit your application

Having gathered all the information you need, you are ready to input the data into an online form.

Register online with the UK Intellectual Property Office to start the procedure, or send the TM3 form to apply via post.

Standard submission form trademark

Applicants can either click to enter your details or, if you’ve filed a trademark before, retrieve your previous details via your email address.

You’ll then be asked to enter some information about the mark you want to claim for, including design details, classification, and your examination type (Standard or Right Start).

5. Address any feedback

If there are no initial objections based on the acceptability of the trademark (the do’s and don’ts we covered above), your form will then be published in the Trade Marks Journal for two months.

During this time, there is the opportunity for anyone to able to challenge your application.

There are typically two main reasons why someone might want to dispute or challenge your trademark, which we will cover in more detail below, and they are: similarity to an existing trademark, and/or a reason based on ethical morality.

Disputes due to existing trademarks

Sometimes, an existing trademark will be notified of your mark because something about it is considered similar. If the party with the existing trademark agrees that yes, they are too similar, this can block your application as they have the final say, as it were. In the event of this happening, you have a couple of options:

  • You can disagree, in which case typically an impartial mediator will decide
  • You can work with the existing trademark owner or make a judgement call and choose to slightly amend your trademark to a standard you feel they would be more accepting toward
  • Or, you can decide on a new trademark altogether.

Similarities can be based on too similar of a colour, sound, logo in general – or too similar due to both trademarks being a specific, similar category.

The Five-Year Rules

Five years is often a significant event in the life of people who own trademarks, but for varying reasons. For example:

  • If you have not used your trademark within five years, it can become at higher risk of being challenged at this time.
  • If you have used a specific logo or symbol for a period of five years but for some reason forgot to officially register, you have a good chance of still being able to claim it as yours even if it has been challenged, as some kind of ‘first come first serve’ solution.

Unethical trademarks

There is another rare case where you will be given one final confirmation letter to confirm that this is definitely a trademark you would like to pursue, in the event that your trademark has been assessed and deemed slightly unethical or morally dubious.

While this does not mean illegal and technically you are able to try for any trademark you choose, in most cases the trademark body will ask you again if you would perhaps prefer to try for something else, or if this is in fact the trademark you are determined on securing.

They don’t have to do this and don’t gain anything from it, it is simply a courtesy that occurs sometimes just because, there will be the rare occasion where someone may not realise what a (potentially negative) impact the wrong trademark could have on their lives and business, or how many people may be upset or concerned.

Unethical Trademarks

There have been some cases where trademarks have ultimately been allowed, but are infamous by the global population for being quite morally dubious.

Anish Kapoor: Art Capitalist

Source: Anish Kapoor

One example of this is from the artist Anish Kapoor, who created and trademarked “Vantablack”, a material described as the darkest man-made colour in the world. With this trademark, he is able to charge however much he wants for his personal version of the colour black, which most artists find distasteful and an affront within the creative industry.

Martin Shkreli: Sickness Capitalist

Source: Craig Ruttle / AP

Similarly, Martin Shkreli became infamous when he acquired a drug known as Pyrimethamine, which can be crucial and life-saving to certain women who have just given birth, babies and AIDS patients – and increased the patented medicine from $13.50 to $750 overnight.

We absolutely do not condone using your trademark for any kind of potentially heinous acts because it can have unfavourable consequences on your life, business and reputation – however these examples do show the power of trademarks and how registering one can be a very powerful tool.

To this day, the idea that a person can trademark an entire medicine or colour, even if currently legal, is highly contentious.

Applications cannot be concluded until all disputes are resolved. To respond to an objection, you can either withdraw the application, defend it, or try to contact the objector directly to resolve the issue.

Once there are no more issues then, congratulations! Your trademark will be registered within two weeks of the end of the publication period.

However, it’s worth knowing that, even if you successfully register a brand design, your licence is still open to challenges if another firm attempts to register a similar logo in future.

Trademark registration costs

There are two key forms involved in the trademark filing process: a standard application form and a renewal form. Both are located on the website.

First time application

If this is your first time registering a trademark, you’ll pay £170 for a standard trademark application done online (£200 by post).

Another option is to use the ‘Right Start’ application. This is essentially a ‘practice’ method for those who are uncertain that their submission will pass.

Using the Right Start method you’ll pay £100 initially. Then, you’ll be sent a report telling you if your application has met the rules. If it does, you’ll pay another £100 to submit your official version.

Trademark standard application£170 online (£200 by post)
Trademark 'Right Start' application£100 upfront (+£100 upon confirmation)

Trademark renewal

If you’re renewing an existing licence, you’ll pay £200 for a one class business, plus £50 for each additional class.

Trademarks need to be renewed every ten years.

Trademark renewal (one class)£200
Trademark renewal (per extra class)£50

Can you register a trademark for free?

There is no way to legitimately register a trademark for free.

If you see any third-party provider claiming to offer this service for zero charge then ignore them. Intellectual property is not an area where you should scrimp and save.

Big brands, including Apple, have paid a heavy price for not considering trademarking laws.

Skipping the process invites several risks including the seizure of your products or marketing materials. Compared to this outcome, a trademark registration is indisputably good value.

Should you pay for a third-party trademark registration service?

Most UK solicitors offer a trademarking management service for a fixed fee. Costs typically range between £600-£1,000 (+VAT) to register a trademark in one class.

If more than one class is required this can cost as much as £150 (+VAT) per additional class.

That means that on average, using a third-party registration service will cost you up to £830 more than a DIY, online approach.

We’d only recommend using a solicitor for very large companies or startups with complex intellectual property needs. For example, if you have invented a completely new product and are planning to file a patent application.

Next Steps: Using Your Trademark

The next steps you should pursue once you have registered your trademark would be these: to use it effectively, and to begin pursuing registrations internationally.

If you’re looking to become the next multi-million pound brand, you will want to ensure that you have all your bases covered. And with trademarks, that simply means using what you have rightful access to, to the best of your ability in the journey of becoming a successful SME.

See our guides on other essential registration steps for new businesses:

Using the 'registered trademark' symbol

Although you don’t have to use a trademark symbol, it is a good idea to enforce a trademark once the application is approved.

The ® symbol or abbreviation “RTM” will show that your mark is on a protected register and may deter someone from imitating it.

Trademark registration FAQs
  • How much is it to trademark a name in the UK?
    It costs £170 to submit a standard trademark application in the UK online, and £200 by post. You’ll also need to pay an extra £50 per class if you want your brand to be registered across multiple industries.
  • Does a trademark need to be registered?
    Registering a trademark is not a compulsory aspect of starting a business. However, if you don’t go through the official application process in the UK then your brand will not be protected from litigation or misuse.
  • How long do trademarks last in the UK?
    You’ll need to renew your trademark every 10 years on the website. This can be done in either the six months before your licence expires, or the six months after.
Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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