Guide

Trade mark tips for beginners

Intellectual property (IP) isn't only about patents and inventions. IP can also include your brand assets, such as company name, logo, product or service name or your business tagline. You can protect these assets by using trade marks.

Here are some key facts to help you understand how to register and protect your business’ trade marks.

1. What is a trade mark?
Trade marks are usually words, phrases, symbols or logos (or their combination) that identify and distinguish the goods and services of one business from another. Shapes, sounds, colours and smells can also qualify as trade marks. See what is a trade mark.

2. What makes a 'good' trade mark?
Not all marks make good trade marks. Your mark should be unique, suitable for registration and legal protection. There are no rules on what makes a successful trade mark, but we've put together some tips to help you - see selecting a strong mark.

3. Search for prior trade marks
Before you choose what mark to use, you should investigate if someone else may already be using a same or similar trade mark. This is known as a clearance search and will help you determine if using your mark risks infringing other people’s rights. See how to search for trade marks.

4. Should you register a trade mark?
You don't have to register a trade mark to use it. However, registration will give you exclusive rights to use, license and sell your mark. It will also give you the right to prevent others from using your mark, or one similar to yours, for comparable goods and services. Learn about the benefits of trade mark registration.

5. What does it mean when a trade mark is registered?
A registered trade mark gives you the legal right to exclusively use your mark on the particular goods and services for which you have registered it. This right is territorial and extends only to the country or the geographical area in which you have registered it. Find out how to register a trade mark.

6. Classes of goods and services
When you apply to register a trade mark, you must chose the class or classes for your products or services. A class groups together similar areas of trade. Registering your mark under a specific class prevents someone from registering the same or similar mark in the same class. However, same marks may be registered in different classes (eg Polo mark exists in confectionery as well as in the motor vehicle class). See how to classify trade marks.

7. Apply for a registered trade mark
You can file your trade mark application online or by paper. To register a trade mark in the UK, you must apply to the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO). Register a trade mark in the UK.

8. What happens after you apply for trade mark registration?
In a straightforward case, a typical trade mark registration in the UK takes around four months. The registration process involves the IPO examination and publication of your application in the online trade marks journal. Provided that nobody opposes your application during the two months publication, or raise objections, the IPO will grant you trade mark registration.

9. How long are trade marks valid for?
Once you register your trade mark, it will be valid for ten years. Once that term is up, you can renew your trade mark indefinitely in ten years periods if you pay the renewal fees on time. Find out how to renew your trade mark registration.

10. Register your trade mark abroad
If you export goods and services abroad, or plan to grow your business in international markets, you should think about registering a trade mark outside the UK.

11. Protect your trade mark
If you haven’t registered your trade mark, you may be able to protect it in the UK under the common law of passing off. However, in most cases, registration of the mark is your first line of defence. If someone infringes your registered trade mark, you can take enforcement action against them. Read about protecting registered trade marks and defending trade marks against infringement.

For help with trade marking, businesses in Northern Ireland can contact Invest Northern Ireland's intellectual property advisers. Alternatively, you can seek legal help from a chartered trade mark attorney.