Trade marks are a type of intellectual property used by businesses to protect their brands. They operate as a ‘badge of origin’, distinguishing a business’s goods or services from those of its competitors. The value of a trusted, recognisable trade mark cannot be overstated. It encourages consumer loyalty and trust and provides peace of mind that the owner’s commercial efforts will not be derailed by copycats. Trade marks do not arise automatically and need to be registered. Here, we explain what can be registered as a trademark, how to register a trade mark in the UK, and how much it costs to register a trade mark in the UK.
What Can Be Registered As A Trade Mark In The UK?
Before contemplating how to register a trade mark in the UK, you need to confirm that your proposed branding is capable of registration. As a general rule, anything that can be depicted graphically can be registered as a trade mark, provided it meets the other legal criteria. The most common types of trade marks are words and logos, but brands have sought registrations for colours, sounds and even smells, with varying success.
The registration criteria applicable to trade marks include that the mark must be distinctive and distinguish the owner’s goods or services from those of other undertakings. A mark is not eligible for registration if it is descriptive; ‘Sweet Cakes’ for cakes, for example, would likely not be registrable. Made-up words, such as Google and Rolex, make the strongest trade marks, since they have no meaning other than in connection with the relevant goods or services.
It can be disastrous to spend time and money on developing branding only to later discover that it cannot be protected as a trade mark. It is, therefore, crucial to seek legal advice at the earliest stages of brand development to ensure your proposed branding is capable of registration and will not infringe any third-party rights.
How Do You Register A Trade Mark In The UK?
To register a trade mark in the UK, you must apply to the UK Intellectual Property Office (the IPO). You must include a ‘specification’ setting out details of the proposed mark and identifying the goods or services you wish to use it in connection with.
In the UK, trade marks are broken down into 45 different classes covering everything from clothing to chemical substances. It is vital to apply in all relevant classes to ensure adequate levels of protection. However, if a specification is too wide, it is less likely to be accepted for registration by the IPO. Further, if it does proceed to registration, the mark may be vulnerable to cancellation at a later date. Most businesses work with experienced trade mark solicitors to draft the specification and give their application the greatest chance of success.
Upon receipt of your application, the IPO will check that it is not too similar to any pre-existing trade marks. If they are happy that it is not, your application will be published in the Trade Marks Journal. At that stage, any third party who considers that your mark should not be registered – because it is too similar to theirs, for example – can oppose it.
Receiving a trade mark opposition does not necessarily mean your mark cannot proceed. You may be able to amend your specification to overcome the opposition or negotiate a settlement with the other party whereby you agree to limit your application to certain key goods or geographical areas. If the matter cannot be settled amicably, you may choose to defend the opposition, in which case the matter will be decided by the Trade Marks Tribunal.
If no opposition is received, or if any opposition fails, your mark will proceed to registration.
How Long Does It Take To Register A Trade Mark In The UK?
How long it takes to register a trade mark in the UK depends on several factors. If the IPO has concerns regarding its ability to meet the registration criteria, or a third party opposes it, the registration process can be lengthy. On average, however, straightforward applications that proceed without issue can achieve registration within 3-4 months.
How Much Is It To Register A Trade Mark In The UK?
At the time of writing, the IPO charges £170 to register a trade mark in the UK. Your trade mark solicitor’s costs will be payable in addition to the IPO fee. Whilst it is more expensive to seek legal advice in connection with your application than to do it yourself, prevention is always better than cure, and businesses often save considerable sums by taking early legal advice. Experienced trade mark solicitors will ensure your application is as watertight as it can be and deal with any issues such as the application being queried by the IPO or an opposition being raised, giving your application the best possible chance of success.
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