How to trademark your startup logo

A key element of your business’s IP, or intellectual property, is a trademark. A trademark is a sign, symbol or expression which identifies a product or service as coming uniquely from you. This could be the name of your business or of your product and service, a logo, or something else. It’s an important aspect of defining your brand, and once your trademark is registered you’ll be able to sell or license your brand.   Here’s advice from DWF LLP on how to pick a brilliant trademark, without running into legal hot water.

What’s the point of a trademark?

-  A trademark serves as a badge of origin, aka it shows that it came from you and you alone. This is important to build your reputation, and ensures you get credit for your ace product or service.   -  By ensuring that the product or service is always linked back to you and your business, you protect your investment and prevent competitors riding off your success.   -  It also means that if someone provides an inferior product or service that’s similar to yours, you can definitively differentiate yourself from it.

What makes a good trademark?

It’s not as simple as just bashing off a nice logo. You have to make sure that your trademark is:

Distinctive. Don’t copy a competitor’s logo and just change one little bit (more on this later), and ensure the term isn’t generic

Non-descriptive. For example, you can’t trademark a phrase which describes the product – examples are adjectives such as ‘fast’ or ‘salty’. This applies even if the word is cunningly spelt differently

Capable of graphical representation – ie it can be presented as a graphic

Not customary in the trade – don’t make it too similar to others

-  Not a shape resulting from the nature of the goods themselves   -  It should go without saying that you can’t trademark anything pornographic or offensive, but just in case…

How do you register a trademark?

Before you get too excited about your brilliant trademark, search the Trademark Database to make sure you’re not inadvertently copying anyone else. If someone has a trademark that’s similar to yours, you can ask them for permission to register yours – you need to include a letter of consent with your application.   You can register a trademark here. Fees and services vary – find out which is best for you here.   A UK trademark protects you in the UK, and a community trademark protects you across the EU – great if you’re planning to export.

Unregistered trademarks

It’s actually not a legal requirement to register your trademark, and you could still be protected from infringement under the UK common law ‘passing off’.   To defend yourself you need to prove that there is substantial use behind the mark, and that you’ve built up a reputation. By marking your trademark TM you demonstrate that it is a trademark, but it doesn’t have the same legal standing as the ® (Registered Trademark) symbol.

Infringing a trademark

To prevent infringing a trademark and running in to difficulties:   -  Check the trademark database (as mentioned above)   -  Do a Google search to make sure nobody else is using the same name (at the very least – and make sure you continue to do this)   -  Don’t choose a similar design to a competitor – it’s actually an infringement to use a similar mark in relation to similar goods, not just a straight-up copy.   -  If you think there could be any issues, a trademark agent can help you carry out a full search and ensure it’s all fine and dandy.   -  Record the selection process for your name so that you have proof that it’s an honest mistake if someone pops out of the woodwork with a similar trademark to you.

Key points

Here are the key things to remember when formulating and registering a trademark:

-  Be distinctive! Stand out! This can’t be emphasised enough. Not only does it prevent legal difficulties, but it makes your brand more exciting anyway. Win-win.

-  Think about registering domain names for trademarks, to avoid future trouble if someone wants to use the website address or to back up your trademark if it’s not registered.

-  Always keep an eye on the competition to make sure nobody’s muscling in on your logo or name.

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