The process to register a trademark in the UK is reasonably straightforward and it’s usually possible to do this with no legal experience. You can register a trademark in the UK on the Gov.uk website at a starting cost of £170. This is a basic fee charged for submitting your registration and if it is non-refundable, even if your application is rejected. Therefore, some UK businesses choose to work with a lawyer to register a trademark. This can increase the likeness of first-time approval.
Simply put, trademarks are badges of origin. Usually, a logo, company name, or amalgamation of both, a trademark becomes an emblem associated with a company or brand. Trademarking is a standardised way to identify and protect your business, with 95,162 trademarks being registered in 2019 in the UK alone (IPO).
In this guide to how to register a trademark in the UK we will take you through:
- What can be registered as a trademark
- What cannot be registered as a trademark
- How to submit a trademark application
- How trademarks are used to protect small businesses
What do we know about registering trademarks anyway?
As a legal services comparison platform, LegalDrop work with many lawyers experienced in registering trademarks. Our clients are mostly small businesses keen to protect their enterprises and they know they can rely on LegalDrop for the most up-to-date, relevant legal and compliance advice. We’ve been asked a lot about trademarks recently, so we thought we’d create this guide on how to register a trademark in the UK. However, if you need any assistance with registering your trademark please search through our platform of qualified trademark and patent lawyers.
What can be registered as a trademark?
A company, brand or product name can be registered as a trademark, as can a symbol or logo. This may include a graphic or your company name stylised in your preferred font. It might also include a slogan, or just be a slogan. For example, Tesco’s ‘Every Little Helps’ saying, is trademarked to prevent rival companies from using it.
Although you should be looking at trademarking brand assets early on, it can be difficult to identify these in the early stages of your business. After all, company logos and even names are prone to change in the initial 1-2 years of trading. Looking back at decisions made in the first few months of launching, there are such to be many ‘what were we thinking’ moments, so don’t go crazy trademarking every brand asset and proposed slogan as soon as you think of it. Some consumer research and gathering feedback (outside of friends and family) is always a good idea before you settle on anything. A trademark may be used to identify your goods or services to clients and consumers, so it is worth a lot of thought, research, and planning.
Once you have identified what it is you would like to protect, you’ll need to look at whether that is possible. Usually, you’ll be wanting to trademark your company name and/or logo. However, there are some strict rules about what you can and can’t register.
When considering what you can register as a trademark, it’s easier to look at what will not fit the criteria. So you can register nearly anything, except for that mentioned in the next section.
What can’t I register as a trademark?
There are many aspects of a brand that will not be able to be trademarked and there are good reasons behind this. You will not be able to trademark a name that describes what you do or the industry you work in because it would be seen as an attempt to monopolise the market. For example, in the product world, you would not be able to trademark the word ‘boardgame’. In services, you would not be able to trademark the term ‘handyman’. However, that does not mean you could not use this in your company name, only that you would not be able to trademark it.
Here are a few other aspects that you can not register as a trademark:
- Anything offensive including swear words or rude imagery
- Including protected emblems such as flags, hallmarks, official signs, etc
- Descriptive words that refer to the product or service, such as ‘apples’ or ‘recruitment’
- Anything misleading, such as ‘vegan’ if the product is not, or ‘educational’ if that is not the focus of the business
- Non-distinctive marks or shapes but also those that are too obviously representative of your business. So ‘apple’ may be used for a technology company but not an ‘apple’ fruit supplier
These are just some of the reasons why a trademark application could be denied. Some may seem vague and this is a leading reason why many applications are denied. If you are in doubt about whether your trademark falls into any of the above categories then it may save you time and money to seek legal advice on your trademark application.
One thing you must also do before you trademark a name is your own research. Just because somebody else has not trademarked a name does not make it an opportunity to overlook the impact that might have on your business. For example, if somebody owns a domain name that includes your brand name then you will not be able to use it. This can be a major obstacle, especially for companies planning to sell online. Doing your own research into your brand name should also flag up any other companies using similar names. This can hurt your impact, especially online and especially if they are operating in the same sector.
How to submit a trademark application
You’ll be pleased to know that this is probably the simplest part of the trademarking process. The best way to submit a trademark application is through the Gov.uk website.
The process of registering a trademark includes checking to see if your brand qualifies, applying to register and then responding to any opposition. Fees are non-refundable so be meticulous because once your application has been submitted you won’t be able to make alterations. If your application is denied you will have to pay again to start a new application.
Gov.uk offers a lot of guidance on what you can and cannot register as a trademark so make sure you read through all of this.
You can expect your application to be processed within 4 weeks, at which point you’ll receive feedback. Objections can be made by the examiner reviewing your application and you’ll have the opportunity to respond to any of these objections. However, your application may also be opposed by others which is why your trademark application will spend 2 months on the trademarks journal. During this time the Intellectual Property Office may notify any company with a similar existing trademark, allowing them to raise objections. If your application makes it through this period without issues then your trademark will be registered and you’ll receive your certificate. You’ll also be able to add the trademark symbol next to your brand to let others know it is protected.
Classification of goods and services
A major part of the trademark application process is deciding which class the brand you want to trademark sits in. For some businesses, this will be straightforward but businesses offering multiple goods or services may find they need to include several class categories. There is nothing to prevent you from doing this but you should be aware that an extra £50 fee applies per class registration. You may find the TM Class website useful for defining the classification of your goods or services.
How trademarks protect small businesses
Trademarks protect all businesses but can be vital for small businesses. Being a small or a start-up company, especially one with a growing brand, can make you a target for larger companies hoping to monopolise on the ideas and talents of less established businesses. Anyone who watched Dragon’s Den knows that a major concern with new brands is the risk of having ideas copied by those who have more power behind them to get a product to market faster. This is why small businesses need to shield themselves using every legal protection at their disposal. But how does trademarking protect small businesses?
Trademarking your brand enables you to take legal action against any third party attempting to use your company name, logo or any other asset protected by your trademark. It is also a highly effective deterrent against anyone attempting to do so.
The other benefit is also knowing that you are not committing trademark infringement, inadvertently.
As a start-up, hopefully, your aspirations are wide and you’ll be seeking to build a brand that becomes recognisable and respected within your industry. Trademarking is a system that seeks to prevent businesses from deceiving consumers by masquerading as other companies or brands. It does not, however, impact or discourage healthy, ethical competition between companies that comply with best practices.
Remember, a trademark currently lasts for 10 years and you must remember to renew your trademark, otherwise, it will expire and may be acquired by another entity.
Need help submitting your trademark application? Search for a lawyer with expertise in trademark registration.