When you ask the question ‘How do I protect my brand name?’ there are four different levels of protection to think about, which we are going to examine more closely in this article:
- Using your brand
- Trademark registration
- Domain name registration
- Registering as a limited company
You spend many years building a positive business reputation and establishing good relationships with your clients.
This ‘goodwill’ is a business asset, known as ‘intellectual property’, and so you need to ensure it is protected against misuse from unscrupulous competitors, theft, and fraudulent activity.
How do I protect my brand name?
Using your brand
One of the most effective methods for protecting your brand name is to use it!
The longer you are in business and the more customers you have, the easier it will be to prove that the name belongs to your company and no other.
In the UK, there is a right to having an unregistered trademark under the law of ‘passing off’.
You can take legal action against another business which is taking advantage of your company’s reputation and goodwill in order to win more customers.
If their intention is to convince customers that they are actually buying from your company by using the same or similar brand to yours, it is classed as misrepresentation (whether it is intentional or not), which could result in damage to your company’s reputation and a loss of goodwill.
‘Passing off’ law exists solely to deal with unregistered business rights where the company’s reputation is such that it has become what is known in legal terms as a common law trademark.
You can take the culprit to court to protect your brand name, but ‘passing off’ actions are very expensive. You have to prove that people have been confused into thinking that they were buying from your business and that, as a result, your brand has been damaged by the actions of the rogue company.
On the plus side, if you win the case, you will be awarded damages and any profits the rogue business made from ‘passing off’ as your company. In addition, they will not be allowed to use your logo/company name again and may have to destroy or give you all the products that infringe the ‘passing off’ law.
Your company names, brand names, and their associated logos, pictures, letters, shapes, sounds, (and even smells!), are a crucial part of what separates your business, products, and services from others.
If you want to make sure that you have the exclusive use of any, or all, of these constituent parts of your brand identity, it is worth thinking about registering your company and its characteristics with the Intellectual Property Office.
You can find out more information about trademark registration and your rights on the UK Government website.
How does it work?
You have the option of registering just in the UK, but there are also options to protect your trademark by registering it in other countries too, for example as a European Community Trademark.
There are 45 categories of goods and services, so you may have to register it more than once, depending on the type of goods and services you sell.
There are certain conditions for trademark registration, for example
- Not using ordinary words in everyday language
- Offensive words or pornographic images
- Misleading terms
- Using general shapes associated with your business’s activities
- Using national flags or emblems
- Use the same trademark as another business operating in the same market, selling the same goods/services
It is also a good idea to undertake or pay for a search for identical or similar trademarks to yours before you commence registration, or you could face court action by another company.
We found a useful guide and answers to FAQs on the FootAnstey website.
If you decide to go ahead in order to protect your brand, it can take anything from between four to six months and initial trademark registration costs £170, with £50 each for secondary classes of registration up to a maximum of six. Your trademark can then be renewed every ten years at a cost of £200*.
Once you have registered the monopoly on your trademark, you are the legal owner and can take anyone else using it, however innocently, to court.
The main benefits are the same as under the passing off section above. However, there are additional benefits such as being able to monitor applications or object to companies trying to register similar trademarks.
You can also report fraudulent or counterfeit usage to both the police and your local authority (Trading Standards.) Deliberate counterfeiting or fraud can result in criminal prosecutions for the rogue company.
Domain name registration
This one is really a no-brainer, especially with stories of counterfeit websites hitting the news!
Register your domain name as .co.uk; .com; or .net.
You can also register domain names similar to yours, such as using a hyphen to split words, or using capital letters for example.
No other company can then register the same name in the same domain.
If you find that your website has been cloned under a similar name, you can complain to :
ICANN for .com website addresses https://www.icann.org/
Nominet for .co.uk website addresses https://nominet.uk/
These two organisations provide the details of the registrar for the rogue website.
Each registrar has a complaints procedure you can follow, presenting all your evidence including trademark registration.
Most fraudulent/fake/rogue sites are taken down within a day or so, or even quicker in some instances.
Domain name registration is not usually expensive and can be processed online immediately.
Registering as a limited company
If your company name is not already being used, you can register it with Companies House.
Like the domain name, no other company will be able to register the same name and you can object if someone registers a similar name.
One advantage to this route is that the company name you have registered doesn’t need to be trading – it can be dormant.
Along with registering details of the directors and people with significant control, you just have to process the appropriate annual filing with Companies House – confirmation statement and annual accounts. You will find a step by step guide on the gov.uk website.
If you register as a limited company online, a certificate of registration costs £12* and your company is registered within 24 hours.
We hope that this guide contains useful information to answer the question ‘How do I protect my brand name?’.
At Rebus Creative, we have helped many clients to develop their brand identity and talked them through their options for protecting their brand name. If you would like our help in developing a brand identity for your business or need assistance to implement marketing campaigns to reach new customers, call the Rebus Creative team on 0114 553 2977, use the contact form on our website or drop us an email. We are happy to meet you for a coffee to chat about your ideas for taking your online presence further or developing a digital campaign. You can talk to us about anything ‘marketing’!
*All costs are correct at the time of writing this article