If you’ve spent time and money developing your small business branding, you may be concerned about the potential for it to be stolen by a competitor. Even if you didn’t realise it, we all deal with trademarks on a daily basis.

They are in fact, another name for brands, and purchasing decisions are often based on the reputation of those brands. Trademarking your brand can not only give you protection from theft, it can also be an important asset when it comes to marketing.

Is trademarking something that’s relevant to smaller businesses or is it the preserve of big companies?

What is your brand?

Your brand is the image that customers have about your business, so you should always take your time to carefully define it. It’s the sum of perceptions that people have about your business, your products, your service and how you market them. It will influence everything from your packaging, to your output on social media. It will also have a tangible expression in your business name, logo and marketing materials. It is these tangible expressions that will be most associated with your business in the eyes of customers, and it’s these that are most at risk from theft by a competitor. It’s these tangible expressions of your brand that should be protected by trademarking.

If you and your business want to nurture and protect your brand, you will need to protect it through the use of trademarks and smart intellectual property management strategies.

What does trademarking mean?

A trademark is a unique form of words or symbols that represent a business or its products. The exact definition can differ across national jurisdictions but in the UK, trademarks can be slogans, phrases, symbols, and logos or a combination of these. These distinguish the services or products of one company from another.

These trademarks can grow to become tangible assets of considerable value. They can be sold either independently or as part of the business at a later date. Some people think that by registering their business name with Companies House they are in effect trademarking their brand. This isn’t the case. To obtain a registered trademark that offers brand name protection in the UK, you need to apply to the Intellectual Property Office.

Unlike with setting up a limited company, there is no legal requirement for you to trademark your logo or other aspects of your brand. Even if you choose not to trademark your brand signifiers, you may have common law rights if you can prove that your business name, logo, or words has a reputation, and there has been confusion in the marketplace. This can be a lengthy, and potentially costly process.

It can take between 4-8 months to register your trademark, and it will be registered in a particular class, depending on your industry. For instance, a trademark for something in construction would not prevent a similar trademark being registered in clothing.

The cost of online filing begins at £170, and this increases for each additional class where you wish to protect your trademark. This is a relatively small outgoing compared with the costs associated with making a common law claim against someone who has used your branding.

Should you trademark your brand as a small business?

Registering your trademark may not be a priority when you’re starting out in business. You may feel that the risks associated with not doing so are not particularly great. In a lot of cases, this may be right.

Just because the risks are low, however, doesn’t necessarily mean they are negligible. It might depend on what your business is selling. If you have a product or service that you feel is in some way genuinely unique, then a trademark could save you a lot of potential hassle in the future.

What are the advantages of trademarking your brand?

Registering for a trademark will give you a number of benefits:

  • You have the right to use the ® symbol next to your trademark
  • You’ll be able to register your brand with HM Revenue & Customs, helping to prevent the import of counterfeit goods bearing your brand into the UK
  • It gives you much greater protection than is received in Common Law. If, for instance, someone was to start using your business name or logo as part of their Twitter handle, you would be able to take action.
  • It gives your brand an added level of security and allows you to build your brand confident that it won’t be stolen or compromised.
  • It gives confidence to your customers that what they are buying is genuine.

Are there any disadvantages?

Registering a trademark is essentially an insurance policy. It helps to guarantee that all your hard work in building a brand won’t be compromised by theft of logos, slogans and symbols that represent your brand.

It does require making an application, and a degree of paperwork. This may feel unnecessary and onerous if you think your small business branding is unlikely to be compromised. A lot may depend on the size of your business and the scale of your ambition.

Do you expect your business to grow and develop? As it does so, more people will become aware of it, including potential competitors. Unscrupulous people do exist, and some may be tempted to try and benefit from the goodwill you have established in your brand.

If, on the other hand, you are a sole trader operating in a geographically limited area with no intention to expand, you may not feel that it’s worth it.

Ultimately, whether or not you take the trademarking route for your brand is a decision for you.

For more advice about small business branding, speak to the expert team at Dawn Creative today.