Building a business and a brand takes a lot of determination and hard work. So it’s important to make sure no one else can swoop in and take that away from you.
Registering your company name as a trademark is one way of protecting it from being stolen and used by someone else, but is it really worth it? And how does it work? Let’s take a look.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is a form of intellectual property which is used to distinguish products or services coming from one source from products and services coming from another.
For example, let’s say you make shoes and you’ve just produced a new line. To distinguish the shoes you make from the shoes other companies make (and from your other lines of shoes), you might give them a name. That name is a trademark.
Without registering that trademark, there’s very little stopping someone else from producing their own line of shoes using exactly the same name. If they did that, they’d be able to benefit from the reputation your company or your product has already developed.
What format can a trademark take?
A trademark can be a colour, a logo, a sound, some words, or a combination of all of them together.
Some examples of trademarks registered in the UK (and in some cases, the EU) include:
- The name ‘adidas’ when used for the retail of footwear, clothing and sporting articles (trademark #: EU002288355)
- The adidas wordmark when used for a variety of different purposes (trademark #: EU002288355)
- Two colours (red Pantone 032C and black Pantone 2C2X) when used on the covers of notebooks (trademark #: UK0002403365A)
- McDonald’s “I’m loving it” tune when used for food and drink services (trademark #: EU003661907)
Why should you trademark your company name?
Registering your company name as a trademark has a number of benefits, including:
- It will prevent other people from stealing and using your trademark. The protection provided by having a registered trademark is stronger than “common law” protections which will apply when your trademark is unregistered
- You can use the ® symbol alongside your company name, which may help to add credibility to your brand
- Turn your brand name into an intangible asset (more about this below)
How does it differ from registering with Companies House?
Don’t confuse registering your company name as a trademark and registering your business with Companies House – they’re not the same thing.
In the UK, limited companies must be registered with Companies House. But just registering your company name in this way won’t stop someone else using it as a trademark (although it does stop them from setting up a company with the same name).
One thing to bear in mind is that just because your company name has been accepted for registration with Companies House, it doesn’t mean it’ll also be eligible for a registered trademark.
What’s the difference between ™ and ®?
The two marks are related but they mean different things:
- ™ is used for unregistered trademarks
- ® is used for registered trademarks. In the UK, it’s illegal to use the ® symbol if you haven’t registered your trademark with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and paid the registration fees
What about ©?
The © symbol stands for “copyright”, and is different from the symbols used for unregistered and registered trademarks. © is intended for artistic works like books, paintings, songs or photographs, and isn’t appropriate for company or product names.
In most countries, copyright is automatically applied and doesn’t need to be registered. This is thanks to the Berne Convention from 1886.
How much does it cost to register a trademark?
Registering a trademark yourself isn’t too expensive. However, it can cost you more if you choose to hire a trademark attorney to help you with the process.
If you choose to register the trademark yourself, it costs £170 for the initial application and then a further £50 for each additional class that you register.
What are trademark classes?
Trademark classes are a way of specifying what kind of products or services you’ll be using your trademark for. For more information about how trademark classes work and how to decide which ones you’ll need to use with your application, have a look at this guide.
How do you register a trademark?
Depending on the trademark you want to register, it’s a relatively simple process. However, it may be a good idea to hire a trademark attorney to help you out. They will help you by researching to see if your trademark is eligible for registration, and can help manage the application process itself. They can also help with appeals if your application is rejected.
If you don’t think you need an attorney’s help, here’s how to register your trademark:
- Check to see if your trademark is eligible – You can find more information about what’s allowed and not allowed here
- Apply on the GOV.UK website. As part of this, you’ll need to specify what your trademark is and what classes you want it to apply to. You’ll then need to pay the fee
- The IPO will review your application and, if there are any problems, contact you within 20 days. You’ll then have two months to resolve those problems
- Once your application have been accepted, it will be entered on the publicly available trademark journal. For a two-month period, people will be able to object to your application
- If no one objects within the two-month period, your trademark will be registered and you’ll get a certificate to confirm this
How long do registered trademarks last?
Trademarks can be registered for up to 10 years. After this, they must be renewed. You can apply to renew your trademark within six months of the expiry date (either side).
If you don’t renew your trademark within six months after its expired, you’ll need to start the application process again.
What if I want to register my trademark internationally?
Registering your trademark with the IPO only registers it the UK – it doesn’t stop someone from using your trademark abroad. And this could be a problem if your company trades internationally.
To register your trademark abroad, you’ll usually need to register in each country you plan to operate in. However, there are also European and international applications.
In any case, to register for an international trademark, you must have already registered your trademark in the UK.
For more information about how to register your trademark internationally, have a look at this guide on the GOV.UK website.
Can a registered trademark help me get finance?
One of the most appealing benefits of registering your company name as a trademark is that it provides you with an intangible asset. Intangible assets are assets which do not physically exist, but still have a value.
Depending on how much value your registered trademark has, you can potentially use it as security for a loan or mortgage. This is more likely to be an option with very well-known and established trademarks, however.
Whether it’s worth registering your company name as a trademark is entirely up to you. It depends on how valuable the potential benefits are versus the cost and time involved in the registration process. It also depends a lot on what stage your company’s at, and how competitive your industry is.
If you’re stuck, it’s a good idea to get in touch with a trademark attorney as they can help outline the pros and cons specific to your company.
Bear in mind: We’re experts when it comes to business finance but not when it comes to trademark law. Make sure you seek professional advice before making any important decisions.