What is a trademark? How to trademark a name for your small business

What is a trademark? How to trademark a name for your small business

Posted: Mon 16th Aug 2021

If you're trading in a competitive market alongside lots of other businesses, you might find it worthwhile to get legal protection for your name or logo.

In this blog, we explain what trademarks are, why they're important and how to get a registered trademark for your small business.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a form of legal ID to distinguish your business (and its products) from other businesses.

It can be a word, letters, a logo, a shape, numbers, a signature, and even sounds and smells, or a combination of these. You can trademark your name or the logo or both together as a single application.

Each option gives your brand a different degree of protection. Having a registered trademark grants you, as the owner, exclusive rights to the mark within your specific industry.

Why is having a trademark important?

All successful businesses have a strong brand name and logo. Trademarking your brand name and logo protects your business and helps it to stand out from the competition.

Most businesses are aware of their brand and rightly see it as their 'corporate' image. They know it's vital to their business, but often don't realise how vulnerable they are without one.

What are the benefits of having a trademark?

A trademark protects your business and livelihood. If you don't register your trademark, someone else could, and could force you to change your name! Rebranding a business can costs thousands of pounds and means losing the awareness and loyalty that you've built up.

And if you need to change your website domain as well, that can be doubly harmful, as search engines will need to 'find' your site all over again.

As well as protecting your business's identity, trademark registration also allows you to bring an action for infringement against anyone who is trying to use your name for similar goods. This is important as it's notoriously difficult and expensive to succeed in a 'passing off' action if you only have an unregistered trademark.

How do I get a trademark for my business?

Make sure that there isn't a similar name, symbol or phrase already trademarked or in widespread use. To do this, you can search the Intellectual Property Office's (IPO) database.

This can be time-consuming, but making sure you aren't inadvertently taking someone else's trademark is crucial. Be aware, however, that the searches on the IPO website will only bring up direct matches, so it isn't foolproof. As a result, using a trademark expert can more than pay for itself in a short time.

How much does it cost to register a trademark? How long does a trademark last?

A registered trademark can cost as little as £170 and lasts for 10 years before renewal fees are due. However, once it's registered you can't increase its scope.

In other words, if you currently only sell clothing but want to expand to hair products, it's worth applying for that class, otherwise you'll have to start (and pay for) a second application from scratch.

Does registering with Companies House count?

No. Registering your company name at Companies House does not provide trademark protection. Similarly, registering a domain name for your website doesn't provide any trademark protection either.

Are online businesses at even more risk from trademark infringement?

Almost all businesses have a website and therefore an online footprint, which makes them vulnerable to another company stealing their identity or taking on a similar identify to confuse their customers.

It's also very common for competitors to use a URL similar to yours to divert traffic away from your website to their own. In the past, a company in Portsmouth called 'Wright Roofing' and a company in Newcastle called 'Wright Roofing' could probably both trade successfully, and without confusion, as they traded and advertised locally.

Now an internet searcher typing in 'Wright Roofing' will see both companies appear but won't know which is the company they are looking for. Businesses are a mouse click away from each other. If one of the companies decides to trademark, the other will be forced to rebrand.

Can two companies hold the same name?

Yes. Trademarks are registered by class and there are 45 different classes.

What are the best names to trademark?

Make sure your trademark is distinctive. Made-up words are arguably the most distinctive and are one of the easiest ways to ensure your trademark application is successful.

Don't be too literal or descriptive with your company or product name. Names such as Sweet Cakes for a patisserie won't be accepted, nor will misspelt words such as Letha Bagz. You also can't register a trademark that includes a famous name or brand – for example, MICROSOFT for a clothing company.

Can I use the TM symbol?

While your name and logo are unregistered, you can put the TM symbol for an unregistered trademark next to them. You can also use the copyright (C) symbol next to your logo.

However, it's a criminal offence to use the registered trademark symbol, R, next to a word or logo that isn't registered. Using the registered trademark symbol will warn competitors that your mark is registered and also make them less likely to challenge it.

Are trademarks assets?

Yes. They add significant value to a brand and can, for instance, be included on a company's balance sheet. In many cases where one business sells to another, it's buying the brand and reputation with customers. Trademarks are a key part of this.

Certainly if a company were considering franchising or licensing, a substantial aspect of the business's value lies in the brand and its representation. So if the company is unable to protect this against imitators, franchisees and licensees would rightly question what the fees they pay are delivering in the way of business value.


Relevant resources

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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