Is your brand at risk of trademark infringement claims?

Is your brand at risk of trademark infringement claims?
Clive Bonny
Clive Bonnystrategic management partners

Posted: Tue 21st Sep 2021

Trademark infringement claims on small businesses are increasing, with over 30% of small- to medium-sized businesses suffering infringement problems, according to Intellectual Property Office surveys. 

As a result, many businesses have to change brand names and logos at high cost. Some are sued for up to half their historical profits and some even have to close the business.

So how can you protect yourself? Here are my top 10 key tips to avoid legal action and protect your brand name and your reputation.

1. Look beyond Companies House

Don’t assume that Companies House registration protects your trading name. Thousands of Registered names on Companies House actually infringe third party trademark owners. 

How to protect yourself:

Business owners and Directors should always undertake searches on the Trademark and Design Registers before applying to Companies House.

2. Understand how trademark applications work

Last year over 10,000 DIY trademark applicants were rejected and lost their application fees. Applicants failed to identify similar names and logos and made mistakes in trademark application procedures.  

Be aware that there are over one million trademarks and designs registered online and trained trademark agents use several database filters to identify similar names to your own. 

How to protect yourself:

Online searches by a qualified trademark agent can cost as little as £100, saving you time and money. Before you publish your brands or make a trademark application seek a certified trademark advisor.

3. Infringement risks can ruin your reputation

If you apply to register a brand name which infringes a third party it can become a very expensive mistake. The registration body can alert them to your application, which may create an expensive public claim against you and ruin your reputation.

How to protect yourself:

A professional search by a qualified person can prevent this.

4. Make sure you have author ownership

Don’t assume that you own your brand name even if you paid for it. If your branding was created by an independent designer or consultant then the author retains ownership even after you pay them. 

How to protect yourself:

Ensure your contract with any designer or consultant includes their assignment to you of their author IP rights. Some trademark agents can give you relevant contract terms.

5. Domain names don’t always give you ownership

If you buy a domain name this may not give you ownership or protect your brand name. Domain name sellers don’t search IP databases before they offer the names for sale online. This means you can buy domain names which are often owned by third party trademark holders and be sued for using domain names registered as trademarks to others. 

How to protect yourself:

A trademark search can prevent this before you buy domain names.

6. Prevent unfair Adwords competition

Trademark owners can use their certificates to prevent competitors from obtaining their online enquiries. 

How to protect yourself:

Many online platforms like Google, Bing, Amazon, Ebay and Etsy accept a trademark certificate to prevent unfair online competition and unfair trading with ad words.    

7. Get lifelong protection for your brand

Trademarks last for 10 years, but they can be renewed indefinitely. Stella Artois and Lowenbrau trademarks are over 600 years old, for example. A trademark gives a brand lifetime value and can be licenced or sold to others.

How to protect yourself:

If your brand meets trademark eligibility criteria, register your domain name as a trademark. This gives you ownership of associated domain names and can also reduce your ongoing annual domain name fees. 

8. Look into licencing benefits

Registered trademarks and designs can be owned and licenced by individuals, families, charities, partnerships, franchisors and any type of organisation. This enables small start-ups to scale up quickly by licencing their registered IP to others. 

How to protect yourself:

A trainer or consultant who develops protected branding and content can safely offer this via third parties to multiply revenue streams. For example, a sole trading trainer or consultant or product designer can multiply their revenue one hundred times if they licence to 100 others. 

9. How to choose a good adviser

How do you select the right trademark and design agent? Remember that 50%-80% of business assets are IP based so take care when choosing an adviser. 

How to protect yourself:

Follow these steps:

  • Check their LinkedIn profile for their certificated qualifications, sector experience and endorsements. 

  • Check their website for their articles, blogs, education materials and any offers of free advice time with no obligations. 

  • Check their clarity and transparency of fees and costs, hourly rates, and any ongoing correspondence expenses. 

  • Rate them and score them. 

10. Consider Murphy’s Law

Finally, make sure you consider Murphy’s Law – if it can go wrong it will go wrong. The world of IP is full of adversarial legal eagles. Just one infringement court case can cost your lifetime earnings. 

How to protect yourself:

Alternative dispute resolution with independent mediators can avoid expensive time-consuming court procedures. IP disputes using mediation can be settled within days at a fraction of the cost of traditional adversarial suits. If your IP advisor is also a qualified mediator this can be a lifesaver. 

Get more business advice from experts like Clive by signing up to Enterprise Nation.

Clive Bonny
Clive Bonnystrategic management partners
Since 1990 Clive has worked as a strategic management partner, management mentor and coach in association with national business support enterprises delivering government funded advice to SME’s, building capacity for high growth and job creation. His work has focused on capacity building, profitable growth and job creation for SME’s and start-ups. His scope of work involves designing and delivering skills workshops and coaching on supply chain development, procurement bidding, Innovation and IP protection, HR productivity, quality process improvement, VCSE investment funding and risk management, alternative finance and crowdfunding, international business development, low carbon innovations. Client projects have created high profits, boosted revenue growth and created jobs through a wide portfolio of support activities. Clive’s assignments have improved corporate partnering, marketing, sales and HR services. He has worked across EU, Africa, USA, Middle East and Asia. His sector experience includes public, private and professional services, finance, IT, health, manufacturing, engineering, retail, leisure, construction, transport, and new media.

Get business support right to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive business tips, learn about new funding programmes, join upcoming events, take e-learning courses, and more.