Protecting Trademarks and Logos in the UK
Trade marks are used to distinguish a business’s goods and/or services sold by the businesses from others in the UK, and worldwide. Your logo might take the form of an emblem, symbol, badge or crest; it may also be a shape. The decisions to be made is whether it is (1) worthwhile making the effort to register the logo, (2) making the effort to do it yourself, or (3) engage external consultants to manage the process for you.
In the UK, there is no legal requirement for your business to register logos, or any other trade name or trade mark used to identify your business to the public. Provided a business has sufficient turnover, sales expenditure and marketing activity, businesses are able to fall back on the Law of Passing off to protect your business.
The difficulty with this approach is that your business will need to prove that it has the required level of goodwill and reputation in the market that justifies protection of the logo. Not an easy feat for start-up businesses.
Also, provided the logo qualifies for copyright protection (as an artistic work), then copyright may be relied upon to protect the logo (this copyright protection is extended globally by individual countries implementing domestic law which is compliant with the provisions of the Berne Convention, which includes the UK). There are disadvantages to this approach, because (1) there is no public register available to be inspected by other businesses to ascertain whether your logo is protected or not in Europe or the UK, and (2) ownership of copyright must be proved in every case.
Registered trade marks appear on public registers which are able to be searched by any member of the public with an internet enabled device.
Once on the Register competitors coming too close to copying your logo may be directed to the Register and warned off unlawful competition caused by using a logo too similar to your business’s. It is easier to prevent unfair competition by registering a logo or trade name.
What does Registration give me?
Registered marks in the UK and Europe (as with the United States) give the owner a statutory monopoly to use it in respect to the goods and/or services in respect which it is registered. For instance, if your business sells shoes, registering the logo would protect any other trader in the relevant country from using your logo. Because trade marks are granted country by country (with the major exemption in Europe of the Community Trade Mark, which gives protection in the countries in European Union), no other business is able to use the trading name to sell shoes without your permission. You are able to stop other businesses using your logo, and take legal action to prevent them from doing so in the future.
Searching before Using
The Register of Trade Marks provides other benefits. Before adopting a logo, it makes good sense to find out whether there is another business are using a similar trade mark in countries where you intend to trade. If you do use a trade mark which is registered by another business without their permission in another country, you will infringe their trade mark and they will be able to stop you from doing so.
Many businesses believe that because a company name does not appear on the website of Companies House, or the domain name is not used, it is OK to use. This is not the case. It is the Register of Trade Marks in the countries which you trade which dictate who has the exclusive right to use trade names and logos, rather than whether or not a company has been registered with the same name or the domain name is in use.
Also, once your trade mark is registered, if another business applies for a logo which is too similar to it, you are able to oppose the application by that other business to prevent their logo being registered.
Rather than entering international markets and hoping for the best, it makes commercial sense to ascertain where the risks lie in respect to use of logos and other trade names to avoid trademark infringement in countries which the business trades.
It is one thing to have a strong brand, it is quite another to be in a position to assert the best legal rights available to protect it. International brand protection can be obtained using a single trade mark application in the UK, which applies to all of Europe.