7 reasons why you need to trade mark your business in the UK

reasons why you need to trade mark your business in the UK

Every business has something that makes them unique. It may be your offering, your customer service or your user experience. Whatever it is that sets you above the rest, your business name and branding will come to represent it. Consumers will begin to associate your brand with the feeling they get when buying from you. This is why it is so important that you have full ownership over your intellectual property (IP). There are a few different categories of IP protection, and here we will focus on trade marking. We will outline exactly what can be trade marked, the benefits of protecting your IP and an introduction to the mark registration process.

What is a Trade Mark?

A trade mark is a type of Intellectual Property (IP) connected with a particular company, product or service. Trade marks can be words, names, initials, logos, monograms, shapes or signatures, numerals and designs. They are something that customers recognise and associate with your good reputation and the quality of your product or service.

The Importance of Trade Marks

Alongside the obvious advantages of protecting your brand, trade marks can benefit your business in a multitude of ways.

It’s the Identity of Your Business

The identity of your company is the number 1 asset you have as a business owner. This is the bedrock of a successful business and will be the foundation from which to grow. Therefore it is essential to ensure that your branding is indicative of the mission of the business and does not infringe on anyone else’s intellectual property. Having this established from the start will help prevent confusion or issues further down the line.

Effective Communication Tool

For potential customers that don’t know your business, the brand is a great way to communicate what your company is about. A distinctive and polished logo will instil trust in people interacting with your company for the first time. A strong brand will also be the way you create super-fans, and these are key in developing your business. A study found that 83% of people are more likely to buy from a business recommended by family or friends than pay attention to advertising (Neilson Study). Creating a core of customers that feel an authentic connection with a brand and then go and tell others about it is the most effective form of customer acquisition.

Effective-communication-tool

Builds Brand Reputation

Consistency is key when building your company and applies to every area, from product to customer service to advertising. Marketing guru, Dr Jeffrey Lant, devised the ‘Rule of 7’ marketing theory. He argues that a potential client is most likely to buy from you after encountering your business roughly 7 times within 18 months. These numbers vary depending on industry and the type of business, but it is unusual for most customers to buy from you the first time they are made aware of you. They want to get to know you, and you need to build trust with them. In the age of information overload, having a clearly identifiable brand ensures that every time one of these ‘touch points’ happens, they know it’s you and understand clearly what you’re about. Your hard work builds this reputation, but a trade mark protects it.

Provides Exclusive Rights

As a business owner, intellectual property protection may not be the most pressing task on your to-do list. However, it is vital to protect all the hard work you have put into your venture. Also, establishing IP protection or at least an understanding of your business’ IP through an IP audit is highly recommended. You may accidentally be infringing on someone else’s IP, or if someone raises an objection against you, having IP protection in place will make it far easier to settle the case quickly. As a business owner, you should also be maintaining your trade mark through a ‘Watching Search’ service. Registered marks can lose their integrity if other similar marks are registered without objection. This will eventually lead to them becoming null and void and unenforceable. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is under no obligation to alert you of such applications, so regularly having an IP agent conduct this search on your behalf is the best way to ensure your mark is upheld.

Trade Marks Do Not Expire If Renewed Every 10 Years

Unlike other forms of IP protection, trade marks can be renewed indefinitely. Registered designs, which protect the appearance of an object, last for 25 years and patents for up to 20 years in the UK. Both services need to be renewed regularly, and enforceable protection ceases once they have reached their full terms. The reason patents and registered design protection runs out is to prevent monopolies and encourage technological advancements. However, a trade mark is different, it’s not an idea but the signature of your business. If you have registered your trade mark and maintained it, it will remain enforceable for the entire lifecycle of your venture.

Valuable Asset

The IPO (Intellectual Property Office) released figures in 2021 that found ‘Intellectual Property can account for more than 70% of your business’ value, far outweighing the physical assets of the business. This impressive statistic outlines the importance of having protected ownership over your IP. If you come to sell your business, potential buyers will want to know what they are actually purchasing. The physical elements are easy to produce, but on the asset sheet, you can’t forget about the value of your brand. After all, your reputation is what got you to the point of being successful enough to sell the business. A valid trade mark will also come into play if you seek investment. Similar to potential buyers, investors will want to have reassurances about your business and de-risk their capital investment. Having a trade mark is a sign of prestige, enables a monetary value to be put on your business’ brand and is a tangible asset to be added to your business’ asset sheet.

Makes Hiring Easier

It is not only potential customers that are reassured by an established name; future employees will also be encouraged to work for you. The job market is the toughest it’s ever been for employers. The combination of ‘The Great Resignation’, Covid, Brexit and a societal shift in attitude towards how we work has contributed to the ball being very firmly in the employees’ court. To attract top talent and retain them, having a great reputation will catch job seekers’ eyes and get them excited to apply for opportunities to join your team.

How to Register a Trade Mark

Choose a Unique Name

It’s best to choose a few names that you would be happy with and try them out before committing. There are many different types of names to consider; like do you want something quite factual so potential customers can immediately identify what you do? Alternatively, it could be a ‘storytelling’ name that represents the narrative behind the brand. If you are stuck on how to choose the perfect name for your company, we have written an article just for you – check it out here.

Conduct a Name Search

When setting up your business, conduct a name search and research your chosen business name. IP experts can assist you with this and alert you to any businesses currently operating under a similar name or any issues there may be. For example, there are a few prohibited words that cannot be legally used unless a specific application is made to the relevant authorities. You will also want to understand how easily a trade mark could be registered, and for this, it is advisable to seek an IP audit from an expert. Start.biz can help with any questions you have – learn more about our IP audits here.

How to register a trade mark

Register a Trade Mark Application

Once all the research has been done and you have received advice from an IP expert, it’s time to register your trade mark. An IP expert can complete these forms on your behalf and take care of all the administration involved. You can apply to the IPO as an individual; however, it can be a complicated and time-consuming process with no guarantee your mark will be accepted. Start.biz has been registering trade marks for over 35 years and is here to help you every step of the way. The application process usually takes approximately 5 months, and your trade mark will need to be renewed every 10 years.

Conclusion

According to annual reports from the IPO, ‘trade mark applications increased by 27.4% to record lestarvels of 137,035 applications in 2020’ and continue to grow year on year, which means that securing your IP protection is more important than ever. A trade mark is a great way to build your reputation, protect against any copycats and add value to your business. Start.biz are here to take care of the process of registering your trade mark giving you the protection you need and peace of mind. Get in touch today for a free IP audit.

All you need to know about Intellectual Property (IP) Audits in the UK

All about Intellectual Property (IP) Audits in UK

This article will explain what Intellectual Property (IP) is, the benefits of fully understanding your IP, and how to maximise this often-overlooked asset. We speak to business owners daily about their professional business service needs, and one thing that often gets lost in the mix is their IP protection. Many consider it an issue for larger companies, designers, or inventors; however, as experienced IP experts, we know it can be one of any business’s most valuable assets. We also know how much of a headache it can be in cases of copying or unintentional infringement. In this article, we’ll get you IP savvy and outline the importance of an IP audit for your business.

What is Intellectual Property (IP)?

Intellectual Property (IP) refers to many different creative outputs your business may have or use commercially. A universal type of IP across different industries is branding. This could be the name of your business, the logo, or the two combined. Every size and type of business will have some sort of IP that is valuable – exactly what it is and how best to protect it needs to be investigated.

What are the different types of IP?

There are several forms of Intellectual Property. Some are automatically covered upon their creation, others need a formal process to be legally protected, but all require action to uphold their integrity.

different types of intellectual properties

Copyright ©

This is automatically covered in UK law when a new piece of writing, photography, music, or recording is created. If you wish to enforce your ownership of the IP and prevent others from copying, you will have to issue a cease-and-desist notice. If this is ignored, then you may have to initiate court proceedings.

Business Name Registration

‘Passing off’ is a common law action that can be used to protect unregistered trade mark rights in the UK. For example, if you believe another business is copying your business’ name and customers may confuse the two operations, you can legally ask the company to cease and desist. However, you will be responsible for the legal fees should the case go to court, and it could take some time to resolve. Start.biz offer Business Name Registration to cover this exact situation. For a low yearly fee, Start.biz will take care of all administration and cover your court fees up to £10,000.

Trade Marks (TM)

You can trade mark a name, word, logo, monogram, shape, letters, numerals, signature, or any combination of these. It takes around 5 months to secure a trade mark in the UK; however, your intellectual property protection rights start the day you submit your application. Trade marks are renewable every 10 years, with a 6-month window on either side. To maintain the validity of your trade mark, you should put a watching search in place. This will alert you to any other parties registering similar marks that may infringe on your intellectual property. Trade marks can last indefinitely, however, they need to be maintained and potential conflicting applications flagged to retain their validity.

Registered Design (RD)

A registered design protects the appearance, physical shape, configuration, and decoration of products. After approval has been given for protection, you will need to renew every 5 years up to a maximum of 25 years.

Patents

Patents are designed to protect a new process through a technical solution. These are usually applied for by inventors or larger companies in the manufacturing or pharmaceutical industries. A patent lasts 5 years in the UK. After this time, it will have to be renewed every year up to a maximum of 20 years.

Geographical Indications (GI)

This type of IP relates to food, drink or produce from a particular area or is made using a traditional method. Examples are Stilton cheese or Champagne. GI indicates to consumers the origin and authenticity of a product. You can register a product under a current scheme or apply for a new scheme to be added to the register.

Types of IP Audits

Now that we have a better understanding of what IP is, let’s look at why an IP audit could be useful to your business.

types of ip audt

General Purpose IP Audit

It is useful to conduct a General Purpose IP Audit as early as possible in your company’s life cycle and continually as you introduce new products, brands, or creative output. It should be conducted as part of your market research, and protection should be put in place before the asset goes out into the public consciousness. This will not only deter potential copiers but also make you aware if you are unintentionally infringing on anyone else’s IP. Once you have a comprehensive understanding of all the IP your business has, you will be able to put a monetary value on it and turn it into a tangible asset for the company.

Event-Driven IP Audit

Businesses do not always grow in a linear way to fit a General Purpose IP Audit. This is where we see audits being carried out after a period of time due to an event. These Event-Driven IP Audits usually fall into 3 categories:

  • An infringement has occurred, and the company wishes to take action.
  • The business owner is looking to sell.
  • Outside investment is being sought.

If an incident has occurred where a business believes its IP has been violated, in most cases, they must first have intellectual property protection in place. The onus is on them to prove there has been an infringement, and this can be a complicated process. We would always advise seeking an expert opinion before initiating proceedings.
In the case of wishing to sell the business, when conducting due diligence, any potential buyer of the company will want to fully understand what they are purchasing. If you don’t have any intellectual property rights to your brand, products, or services, it will reduce the interest from buyers.
Similarly, potential investors will want to understand the business’ assets and gain reassurance of its protected competitive edge. A great idea might grab their attention, but they will not view the company as a sound opportunity if there is no intellectual property protection in place.

Limited Purpose IP Audit

Limited purpose refers to an activity a business carries out that is only meant for internal use. Understanding your business’s intellectual property is incredibly important, not only to protect your IP but also to ensure you’re not infringing on others’ IP. Many business owners have a deep connection to the name and brand they are building, so it is essential you review your IP and business plan together to ensure you’re not building something that may be an issue further down the line. Many IP experts offer free consultations that will give you a top-line view of any potential problems. There may be budgetary constraints for small businesses; however, putting in place correct IP protection from the start can save you time and money in the long run.

The Importance of IP Audits

We’ve looked at the different types of IP audits and what they can mean for the business; now, let’s see what intellectual property protection audits can do for a company in relation to the wider marketplace.

types of ip audt

Identifying New Opportunities

As mentioned previously, an intellectual property audit should be carried out in conjunction with your market and competitor research. Not only will this help you determine potential developments in your offering, but it will also help you pinpoint what is unique about your company. Depending on your industry and business, it may also encourage innovation in your product development or engineering department. Conversely, it will also outline what features of your competitor’s offering aren’t protected by intellectual property law, allowing you to plan your marketing and product development strategy accordingly.

Customer Perception

If you spent time getting an IP audit and protecting your creative output, the business needs to be communicating that to potential customers. Consumers will not care that you have a trade mark or any other form of IP protection, but they will buy into a unique brand. It’s about storytelling, brand building, and having a distinctive voice that sets you apart. Ensuring no one can imitate your brand will only make it stronger and enable you to resonate effectively with your ideal customer.

Preventing Costly Disputes

Intellectual property law can be complicated, and the process to either defend or prevent another company from infringing can be lengthy. The average lawyer will charge around £250 per hour, and these cases can continue for months, if not years. The best way to prevent this is to secure your IP protection early, ideally before launching the business.

Conclusion

Through an Intellectual Property Audit, you can understand the assets your business has, build a strong brand identity, and distinguish yourself from your competitors. Whether you are planning on selling your business or not, preventing copycats is invaluable to the health of your venture. Considering the different types of IP protection for your business will allow you to improve your business plan, strategies, and marketing efforts. After all, knowledge is power!

Start.biz teams up with newly renovated JQ Modern to provide an advice clinic for local businesses

Start.biz teams up with newly renovated JQ Modern to provide an advice clinic for local businesses


We’re taking our free business advice clinics on the road and holding one in the newly renovated JQ Modern in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham on 13th September 2022. Start.biz specialise in: Intellectual Property (IP) protection, ‘Access to Finance’ and business services & compliance. To book your place please register here.

JQ Modern (formerly The Big Peg) has undergone a £5m refurbishment to create the most stylish private offices in the Jewellery Quarter.

The iconic landmark building now offers stunning private offices and boutique communal lounges with fresh coffee, meeting rooms and a stylish new reception. The transformation included the installation of a fully live 10GB internet connection providing superfast wifi throughout the building. All of this in a location with a train station, a tram stop, several bus routes, cycle parking and a 10 minute walk from the city core, but with a neighbourhood feel.

Sky high on the 7th floor, flooded with natural daylight are JQ Modern’s fully serviced offices – named LUX, meaning light. Ideal for businesses of up to 5, with impressive views of Birmingham and beyond, these characterful offices are available on flexible terms and come fully equipped.

For growing teams, the building offers scalable options of up to 50 people.

Tara Elwell, Sales & Marketing Manager said ‘JQ Modern offers everything you need with great facilities on flexible and affordable terms. We can provide options to scale up over time. We have fantastic communal spaces for when you want to step out of your private office. These are great for making new connections, as is our events programme. We are building the most exciting community of dynamic small businesses in the city.’

Matthew Cusack, Director at Start.biz said of the upcoming business advice clinic, ‘We find these face-to-face sessions really productive when it comes to solving challenges businesses are currently facing and we’re really keen to take these sessions to different areas to broaden our reach. JQ Modern is a fantastic space and the refurbishment has further enhanced the thriving Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham.’

To learn more or enquire about pricing and office availability please visit their website.

Our Intellectual Property Story

“Should we just pull out of the deal? If we don’t own the IP when we complete then what are we actually buying?”

Bevan and I had to ask ourselves these questions when we were going through the acquisition process of Start.Biz. The business had been trading in one form or another for 36 years when we acquired it. Its core offering was to protect other business’ Intellectual Property and yet when we came to buy it, we realised that it hadn’t taken the necessary steps to protect its own. Could this situation have been more ironic?!

The brand that the business was trading under had been in operation for over 30 years and was synonymous with the trading activity of the business itself. Whilst we had valued the business based on a multiple of profits, we were acutely aware that we were inheriting a ready-made brand with customers who had been loyal to it for decades. So, without owning the IP, we were putting ourselves (and our families, homes etc) at massive risk by completing on a transaction and potentially buying thin air.


Poking the bear

For a variety of reasons (legal and organisational), we were in a situation six weeks before completion where we were totally unclear as to who owned the Intellectual Property.

This matter only came to light as a result of our Due Diligence – up to that juncture, the Sellers believed that any IP was owned by the business. As a result of our questioning, we had identified that there was a third party who had made claim to owning the IP and was demanding hefty sums of money to release any claim to it.


Stalemate

The acquisition had been rolling on for nearly seven months when this came to light and had been a rollercoaster mainly driven by financial challenges; the last thing we expected to potentially scupper the deal was one surrounding Intellectual Property. As we didn’t own the business, we couldn’t take the case on and so we had to work with the Sellers on overcoming this challenge.

We were at an impasse, as we didn’t want to buy a business that didn’t have ownership over its name, brand and goodwill; whilst the Sellers were not prepared to sell as had they done so without this being resolved then they would have breached the legal documents associated with the transaction itself.


The price of victory

Thankfully, our Sellers had been around the block and were savvy enough to have retained copies of all documentation and notes/recordings of verbal conversations held. As with all things though, resolution came at a cost…. The legal fees associated with successfully concluding the matter were over £10,000 and delayed completing on the deal by more than two months.

We had finally overcome our last hurdle albeit we were poorer, a bit more stressed and with some more grey streaks in our hair!

Most importantly, we were able to buy the business and focus on driving it forwards rather than being laden down with legacy issues that would have hindered our growth and profitability in the first 12 months after we owned Start.biz.


So what?

Peace of mind and ultimately an ability to reap the rewards of a lot of hard work.

IP is often sold on the basis of fear when it should be sold on value. Now more than ever, brand identity and messaging are critical in generating goodwill and market value for businesses. Protecting IP preserves a business’ value and all of the blood, sweat and tears that has gone in behind the scenes to make that happen.

In our case, had this matter not been resolved then the deal would have fallen through, and the Sellers would have been left with a business that they couldn’t sell having spent 36 years building it up. All for what should have cost no more than £500 – £600 to protect in the first place. When the stakes are so high, the question to ask is not “So what?” but rather “Why not?”