What are trade marks?

The IPO explains what trade marks are and how to use them

Your company name, logo and products are your intellectual property assets. They distinguish your businesses from your rival’s. A good understanding of how to register your trade marks will help to prevent your intellectual property assets from infringement by others.

Lawrence Smith-Higgins from the IPO explains how businesses can maximise the protection of their brands.

What are trade marks?

Trade marks can be words, logos, colours, shapes, or sounds that make the business or product or service you provide distinctive.

What are the benefits of registering a trade mark?

Business generally spend a lot of time and effort on names. The right name for the business or a product could help you stand out from the crowd; the wrong one could place you in a legal dispute.

Trade marks are powerful and valuable assets. Protecting your trade marks should be an important consideration whenever a new business or product is being launched. If you have an existing business it might not be too late to protect the name.

Trade marks help customers and other businesses identify your products and services and also the reputation and goodwill that has been built up. All too often others may wish to copy, and attempt to share your success. This may or may not have an immediate effect on turnover, but others using your name could prevent trade mark registration and the exclusivity it offers. In addition, any adverse publicity or poor reputation your rival may acquire may affect your business if customers cannot differentiate between the two names.

Un-registered trade marks

These are signs which distinguish the goods and services of one trader from those of others. Trade marks, often the single most valuable marketing tool a company will have (whatever its size), do not need to be registered. Providing that sufficient trading reputation and goodwill has been built up in a mark, a degree of protection is afforded by common law.

However, in order to succeed in an action based on an unregistered mark, it is necessary to show that one has established a reputation in the mark, and that there is confusion and harm has been done.

Registered trade marks

Registration of the mark on the other hand gives an immediate right to stop someone using the same or similar mark on the same or similar goods and services, without the need to prove reputation or demonstrate confusion. The owner of a trade mark would therefore always be well advised to register the trade mark where this is possible.

Can you use your trade mark?

It is also worth checking the name of your company or product before use. It can be a severe psychological and financial blow to create a “new” brand and then start using this brand on a range of products, stationery, shop signs, etc., only to find that you are infringing an existing registered trade mark.

If someone else has obtained a registered trade mark for the same, or similar, goods or services, in the same class of registration, you could find yourself having to re-brand your goods, or re-name the company. Worse still you could find yourself being the defendant in a trade mark infringement action.

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