Trademarks are a means of ensuring that an organisation and its products are easily recognisable by customers and the business community. They form part of an organisation’s brand identity and can include:
- Domain Names
- Hand signals or body movements
Trademarks have value and consideration should therefore be given to protecting them against unauthorised use.
An organisation can have multiple trademarks.
To protect a trademark in the UK requires it to be registered and approved with UK Intellectual Property Office (www.ipo.gov.uk). There is a cost associated with registering a trademark and the initial registration lasts for 10 years and can be renewed every 10 years. To protect a trademark outside of the UK it must be registered with the appropriate registration body. Registered trademarks are allowed to have the ‘®’ symbol beside it. The use of the symbol ® on a non- registered trademark is an offence.
Even if an organisation is registered with Companies House it does not stop someone else registering the same business name or domain name as a Trademark. This could create problems as the owner of the trademark could then force an organisation to change its business name or domain name. If this happens the first organisation could be protected by the common law principle of “passing off”. Passing off can occur when an organisation has built a good reputation in a particular sector and it is discovered that another organisation is using a similar name to deliver similar products or services. It is possible to take legal action based on the fact that the other organisation is attempting to deceive the public by passing off their products or services as yours. This process can be time consuming and costly and will almost certainly result in legal advice being sought.