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You’re probably familiar with what a trademark is – a way of protecting the intellectual property (IP) of your business. Making sure the unique aspects of your business aren’t being copied by your competitors.
The process of registering a trademark can be complex for anyone who hasn’t done it before. But it doesn’t have to be. We’ll break down the application process into three simple steps as well as these other topics:
A trademark is a way of legally protecting a product or service that’s unique to your business. It helps you distinguish what your business offers in comparison to others in your industry, while also stopping it from being copied or stolen.
You can trademark a variety of things in your business, for example:
There are slightly different rules depending on what you’re choosing to trademark, and we’ll go into more detail on that later on. You can find more information in our guide to intellectual property as well as details on the differences between copyright, patents, and trademarks.
When you’re starting out a new business, registering a trademark on your IP might be high on your to-do list.
The typical reason to trademark something in your business is to protect it from being copied or stolen. While a trademark can’t physically stop someone from stealing your ideas, it gives you the ability to take legal action against somebody who does.
The threat of legal action is usually enough to stop people from copying your business but in the cases when it doesn’t, you’ll need to respond. The government site has a detailed breakdown of how to make a claim about stolen IP.
More broadly, trademarking aspects of your business will help build your brand identity. When you think about huge brands like McDonalds or Disney, they have logos, ideas, colours, and sounds that are all unique to them. This wouldn’t be possible without trademarking.
Once you have the trademark, you can put the ® symbol next to the trademarked asset to show that it’s protected.
You need to decide what you’d like to trademark. You can trademark logos, colours, words, sounds, or a combination of them all.
If it’s distinctive enough, there shouldn’t be a problem getting something trademarked. The main stumbling block at this stage is trying to trademark something that someone else has already claimed. Check the trademark register to make sure there’s isn't a clash with existing trademarks.
There’s also a chance you’re trying to trademark something that can’t be. We’ll cover things you can’t trademark in your business later in the article.
You’ll then need to select a category for your trademark. This helps define whether you’re trademarking a product or a service and what industry it’s in. The government has made a classification checker that makes this process simple.
If you feel your product or service spans more than one of these categories, you should select all that apply.
You’ll need to enter information about your business like the name and address as well as the details mentioned above, including the design details and classification. It’ll then be sent to the Trade Marks Journal for two months. During this time, anyone can dispute your trademark.
Whenever you try to register a trademark, it can be disputed by someone else. There are two reasons someone will challenge your trademark – they think it’s like their own intellectual property or they think it’s unethical.
If your trademark is flagged as similar to another, the holder of the existing trademark will be notified and they can choose to block your application. If your trademark is blocked, you can:
Claims that your trademark is unethical, while less common, are also important to be aware of. You could have a slogan about sustainability that says, ‘the best small business for the planet’, for example. If you tried to trademark it, it could be contested as unethical because it’s a potentially false claim, and isn’t a title that can be owned by one business.
Your application can’t be completed until all challenges against it have been resolved. Once they have, your application will be complete and your trademark will be registered.
Having a trademark is an ongoing process that means you’ll always interact with it in some way. You may have more challenges against your trademark in the future and you might contest ones that are like yours.
Because the length of the feedback process can vary depending on whether or not you’re challenged, all of these timings are estimates. But this is roughly how long it takes to register a trademark:
It takes around three months in total to fully register your trademark. You’ll be sent a certificate to confirm the trademark, which lasts for 10 years until it needs to be renewed.
There isn’t a way to register a trademark for free. The standard fee for a first-time application is £170 (£200 by post) and it’s paid at the beginning of the process. But there’s another way of applying that might be worth considering.
A ‘right start’ application costs £200 but offers you the chance to get feedback before going through the entire process. You pay £100 up front and the trademark is assessed like a standard application.
The difference is that you’re sent feedback once it’s been reviewed and can then decide whether you’d like to go forward with the registration. If you decide to continue, you’ll need to pay another £100 to complete the application. But if you don’t, you won’t have to pay the extra £100.
This is useful if you think the trademark you’re applying for is going to be competitive. With the standard process, you could spend the £170 upfront but be unable to register because it’s too similar to another trademark. Another extra cost to consider is if you choose more than one class for your trademark as it’ll cost £50 for each additional class.
Once you’re registered, a trademark lasts for 10 years before you’ll need to renew for £200.
Sometimes a trademark isn’t enough to stop someone from stealing your IP. In cases where taking legal action is required, having the right business legal insurance could be important.
When a steady cash flow is important for a business, unexpected legal fees can cause unnecessary problems. Having an insurance policy that covers these legal fees can put your mind at ease.
Have you registered a trademark in your business? Let us know in the comments below.
Zach Hayward-Jones is a Copywriter at Simply Business, with six years of writing experience across entertainment, insurance, and financial services. Zach specialises in covering small business and landlord insurance. He has a particular interest in issues impacting the hospitality industry after spending a number of years working as a pastry chef.
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