Trade marks are part of your intellectual property. Intellectual Property is a way of identifying who owns an idea. If an idea is covered by Intellectual Property then it is protected. Anyone who wants to make money from that idea has to ask permission and may have to pay. Not all ideas can be covered by Intellectual Property. To start with they have to be shown to be unique and original. In the UK there are 4 types of intellectual property which are
- Patents – Have to be applied for and cover new inventions
- Design – Can be applied for but there are some automatic rights, covers the way things look
- Copyright – An automatic right covering anything written, includes books, music and websites
- Trade Marks – Covers brands, names and logos. Has to be applied for
Trade marks can be applied to most companies. As they cover words and logos they can be used to protect company names, product names and logo designs or both. This is to stop people from setting up copycat companies or products which try to imitate yours and steal your customers. Trade marks are particularly important for UK companies as they are the best way to secure a company name. Trade mark rights are stronger and easier to enforce than standard company name rules. So even if you have registered a company name with Companies House you can still be stopped from using it if someone has a similar name trade marked.
Getting a trade mark search done before naming your company and then seeking trade mark protection is, therefore, essential. However the rules around what can and cannot be trade marked are complicated somewhat by trade mark classes. Trade marks in the UK are looked after by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). The IPO break trade marks down into 45 separate classes. It is possible to have a company or product name registered in one class and an identical company or product name registered by someone else in a separate class. A classic example is that ‘Polo’ the mint does not clash with ‘Polo’ the car because they are in different trade mark classes. The basic principle is that no-one is likely to confuse the two objects, a mint and a car, therefore it is OK for them to share a name.
Currently all UK trade mark applications are kept by the IPO. They are valid for 10 years and then have to be renewed. The IPO also hold details and reciprocal relationships with the European Union and countries who are signed up to the Madrid Protocol. This means that you can easily get protection for your brand on an international level.