So, you’re done registering your company. Great! That means you own the legal rights to the name, logo and slogans – and nobody else can use them… right?
Sorry, unfortunately not. Registering a company name merely means that other businesses can’t register the same (or a very similar) name at Companies House.
Remember, your company name and trading name aren’t necessarily the same thing. Establishing your company name officially confirms your existence, but does nothing on a legal level to stop someone using your branding without permission. To stop that from happening, what you need is a registered trademark.
Checking your trademark isn’t already taken
It’s inevitable that new business owners will be concerned about someone pinching their idea – but the possibility that you might unknowingly be the copycat is far more pressing. Before rushing into anything, check the name you’ve come up with isn’t already trademarked by using the Intellectual Property Office (IPO)’s trademark search.
Don’t be fooled into assuming that any trademark infringement would have been flagged when you registered your company. Companies House and the IPO are different departments, and (annoyingly) their databases aren’t linked.
In short, look before you leap. Just like web domains and Twitter handles – trademark availability needs to considered before wasting any money and working hours on creating inevitably unusable business branding.
How much does trademarking a company cost?
If you’re certain that what you’re trademarking will pass the rules for registration, then the standard online trademark registration rate is £170.
You’ll also be required to pick which trademark classes (which describe the nature of your business) apply to your company. If you build guitars, for example, you won’t want a competitor building guitars and calling them your name, however, you might be less fussed if a fishmonger or hairdresser opens a store with your trademarked name”.
There are 45 of these classes to choose from, and the more of them you want your trademark to apply to, the more additional costs you will incur. Each class you add will cost an extra £25.
If you’re not sure whether the details you’re providing adhere to the rules of registration (i.e. it can’t be offensive, misleading or too generalised), you’re best off going through the ‘Right Start’ procedure. This costs £200 plus £50 each for any additional classes, although if your application isn’t successful you’ll only end up paying half of this. A small consolation for having to change your branding plans, at least.
How long does a trademark last?
Registered trademarks last for 10 years. They can be renewed for additional 10 year periods, as long as you pay the renewal fee within six months before or following the expiration date.
Trademark, copyright & patent – what’s the difference?
All three of these are related to the protection of intellectual property, but differ in the areas they cover.
Trademarks protect branding such as names, slogans, logos and symbols.
Copyright protects the work of creative professionals such as authors, artists or architects. It doesn’t cost anything.
Patents protect new inventions. These are the most complicated, long-winded and expensive form of protection to obtain, usually taking about five years and costing upwards of £4,000 – but are worth pursuing if you have a groundbreaking technological breakthrough.
Changes to trademark law after Brexit
If your business also trades in Europe, you can currently apply for a Community Trade Mark which protects your intellectual property in all EU countries.
At the time of writing, Britain is still part of the European Union, and it is not yet clear how laws such as these will be affected following Brexit.