Help! I didn’t protect my company name and now another company is suing me for all my profits!
Whilst it is relatively easy to start your own company it is important that the foundations you build initially are robust enough to enable a smooth growth as your business booms. At the very core of your business is your brand – this can be comprised of your trading name, your logo, your slogan or even a sound that is uniquely associated with your company – but are you allowed to use them?
The concern from a small business’ point of view is what would happen to your income if somebody else started to imitate your brand or worse, if you were accused of imitating someone else’s brand. The goodwill and reputation built up under your trading name is invaluable and so it is imperative that you take the right steps to protect it from the outset. By registering and securing the brand as your own you are acquiring your free use to operate the brand but more importantly, you are preventing others from using it, and this is where the true value comes in. But, how do you protect your brand?
The simplest way to protect a brand is by using it. The more people associate you with the brand, the more likely it is that the courts will recognise your legal rights to it. This method, whilst simple, isn’t sufficient on its own and should be exercised along with other types of protection. Do you really want to risk being taken to court to prove that your name is yours? Can you afford to fight a lengthy legal battle over the rights to your company name? And what if the other party wins? Nasty stuff.
With this in mind it would be prudent to also consider..
Registering Your Intellectual Property
Many people mistakenly think that registering their company with HMRC or Companies House is tantamount to brand protection – this is incorrect. Both Companies House and Gov.UK confirm this and instead refer us to the UK Intellectual Property Office.
You can visit their website and apply to register your company name / logo etc as a UK trademark. Once approved this certification gives you sole control over your registered trademark and anybody caught using it without your permission can be dealt with by the courts easily. Registration is carried out by completion of a form on the website which is relatively simple and the price is £170 but can increase if your brand is large and comprises lots of different elements. It can take 4-6 months to receive confirmation that your trademark has been approved and during the time the IPO will be checking to see whether your brand conflicts with any others already registered as trademarks. A registered trademark must be renewed every 10 years.
Something to be aware of is the term ‘trademark squatters’. These are essentially people who notice that a brand is becoming popular and then proceed to register the details with the IPO just so that you can’t. They will then either charge you to use your own brand or try to sell the trademark to you for an unreasonable sum. You can check to see whether anybody has registered your company name, either incidentally or intentionally, on the IPO website trademark checker.
If your business is garnering a lot of attention then this is something you should be very cautious about because these are the exact types of business that trademark squatters will target.
Secure the domain
Whether you use the internet for your business or not, your customers at some point will search for you online. By purchasing the domain name of your business (like www.storsafesolutions.co.uk) you are at the very least preventing others from using it and at best, hedging your bets for the future when you might like to have a website / online presence for your business. People looking to start a new company themselves will be put off if their preferred domain name is not available and will likely choose a new name instead. Registering a domain is simple and costs very little. You can search yourself at 123-Reg or if you would like our help please get in touch. Even if you don’t want a website we can secure the domain name and create a landing page directing your customers to you by showing your contact details.
Fighting a case in court for the rights to your own brand can be lengthy and expensive. If you are inadvertently using somebody else’s trademark and they successfully sue you the court can order you to;
- Pay an agreed sum in compensation
- Pay any profits you have made using your brand
- Order you to stop using the brand indefinitely
- Order you to destroy anything to do with the brand
These same rights are available to you once you have secured the rights to your brand and will give you the legal power to pursue financial recourse against anybody caught breaching your trademark.
We may have small businesses but not correctly protecting our trading names could result in disastrous consequences. Take the time to secure your intellectual property now and save yourself any legal problems later.
Have you registered your trademark? Have you ever come up against somebody accusing your of using their trademark? Let us know in the comments below.