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Guide to trade marks for limited companies

A trade mark is typically a combination of words and images which distinguishes one brand from another. By registering a trade mark, you can legally protect your trade mark from being used by your competitors.

Trade marks – the basics

Famous examples of trade marks would include the McDonald’s sign and colours, or the distinctive Apple logo.

In order for a trade mark to be eligible for registration, it needs to be distinctive, inoffensive, legal and not deceptive in any way. A trade mark can be made up of words, numbers, logos, and phrases – or a combination.

Importantly, ownership of company names and domain names does not automatically give you any legal rights over the registered trade marks to those names. Company and Internet laws are separate from Trade Mark laws.

Therefore, in order to protect your company name, you also need to register the trade mark.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) governs trade mark and patent registration in the UK. To protect your brand overseas, you would need to apply for European Union TM registration (CTM), or take out an International TM registration.

The benefits of trade mark registration

  • If you successfully register a trade mark, there are a number of important benefits for your company:
  • It is far easier to legally challenge potential trade mark infringements. Although you can claim against a competitor for ‘passing off’ using an unregistered mark, the legal process is far more straightforward if you own the trade mark.
  • You can use the ® symbol next to a registered trade mark – this not only adds kudos to your brand, but will also put off other businesses who may have previously been tempted to infringe your brand identity.
  • Once you own a trade mark, it is your intellectual property and can be sold as an asset in the future.
  • Trade mark registration lasts for ten years. You can renew on each 10th anniversary for £200 upwards (depending on how many TM classes you are covered by).

How to apply to register a trade mark

  • Before applying to register a trade mark with the IPO, you should firstly check that a similar mark does not already exist. Use the IPO search to find out.
  • For obvious reasons, you cannot apply for a mark which is offensive, or illegal. Some emblems, such as national flags, are also protected.
  • There are currently 45 categories of trade mark goods and services. You will need to decide which of these categories your trade mark belongs to.
  • You can apply online after completing the application form, together with the correct fee (from £170 for one category, and £50 for each additional class).
  • Once the examiner has processed your application, it will be published in the Trade Mark Journal to allow third parties with a chance to object to your application.
  • If successful, you should own the registered trade mark between 4 and 6 months from the date of application.
  • You can also use the Right Start service for which, in return for half the registration fee, the IPO will examine your application and let you know if it is suitable for registration or not. You can then proceed, and pay the remaining proportion of the fee, or abandon the application altogether.

Further Information

The Intellectual Property Office – part of the Department for BIS – is responsible for Intellectual Property rights in the UK, including Trade Marks, Patents and Copyright. The site contains very easy to understand guides to Trade Marks, the benefits of registration, and how to apply. Find out more here.

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