Running your own business is an exciting professional option which appeals to people from all walks of life. New businesses and franchises are started up every day, so it’s wise to protect your unique brand by registering your trademark.
Though the thought of filling out paperwork or putting in an application on the government website can be daunting, and might take up a lot of your time, it’s definitely worth the hassle in the long-term. You can protect your business by filing for a trademark.
In this installment of the business basics series, we’re going to break down all the necessary steps, and tell you exactly how to go about registering a trademark.
What is a trademark?
First off, let’s answer this all-important question. A trademark is a type of intellectual property. It’s your brand identifier. Your badge of origin. It distinguishes your franchise’s goods or services from those of other traders.
What can you register as a trademark?
Many things can be registered as a trademark, but names and logos tend to be the most common options. There are certain things you cannot register, so familiarise yourself with these lists before you get to work on your trademark application paperwork.
Examples of things you CAN trademark include:
- A word
- A logo
- A shape
- A position
- A pattern
- A single colour
- A colour combination
- A sound
- A motion
- An item of multimedia
- A hologram
However, you CAN’T trademark:
- Anything offensive
- Anything misleading
- Any 3-D shape associated with an existing trademark
- Anything too common/indistinct
- Anything that looks too similar to a state symbol e.g. the UK flag
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Why are trademarks important?
If you’ve been running a franchise for a while, and so far you haven’t faced any issues, you might be tempted to carry on without a trademark. But this choice would be the wrong one to make, and it might come back to bite you at a later date. When you fail to trademark something as important as your business name, you risk creating legal headaches for your company.
Trademarks are extremely important, and if you’re not sure quite why yet, here are the three key reasons...
1. Trademarks prevent the possibility of unplanned, potentially costly name changes down the line
Without your trademark registered, you’re risking someone else registering it instead. When this happens, businesses who haven’t done the hard work to get to where you are can piggyback off of your success.
And unfortunately for businesses on the receiving end in this situation, once a trademark is registered, it won’t expire as long as the renewal fees are paid. Coca-Cola, for example, was first trademarked 128 years ago, in 1893 [Mighty Recruiter].
In the end, situations like this might end so badly that your franchise needs to change its name entirely, which can be both an upsetting and costly process.
2. A trademark will add value to your franchise
For business owners hoping to attract investors and franchisees, a trademark adds a level of respectability to your brand. Potential investors will be interested in whether your company has a trademark or not, and they’ll know that if it does, reason one (others stealing the brand name) won’t be an issue down the line.
If your company is established and low risk in every sense, franchisees are much more likely to take the plunge.
3. A trademark protects your unique and valuable brand identity
A trademark protects and confirms your unique brand identity for as long as you need it to, and can prevent a host of legal issues such as those discussed above. When you register a trademark, you assert control over your brand name, and prevent the competition from using your unpreparedness against you. Register your trademark, and place yourself in the strongest legal position possible.
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How to trademark a business
Before you go about registering a trademark for your brand, it’s important that you visit the government website and make sure other similar trademarks don’t exist. You can do this by looking up:
- A trademark number
- An owner
- A keyword
- A key phrase
- An image
Once you’ve researched the existing database of registered trademarks, it’s time to understand the costs. You can complete the process online, via the government website, or through the post. Online applications cost £170, while postal applications cost £200.
To register, you must go through the IPO (Intellectual Property Office). This is a three-step process:
1. Choose your trademark
This can arguably be the most difficult part, so make sure you think about what you’d like to trademark carefully. Head back to the lists of do’s and don'ts before you make any final decisions. Making your registered trademark as distinctive as possible will not only help you to stand out, but it’s also a guarantee that similar trademarks won’t exist.
2. Define your good/services
The IPO operates using a 45-class trademark classification system. 34 of these classes are for goods, and the remaining 11 are for services. Remember to think about any additional classes that your franchise might want to expand into in the future at this point, as you’ll have the option to register your trademark against these classes, too.
3. Know your scope
If you’re a franchisor operating in the UK alone, you might only want to register your trademark in this country. That said, international franchising can be an amazing chance to grow your business. If you have any plans to expand your brand overseas, you should consider registering outside of the UK, too. The costs of registration will vary depending on the countries that you choose.
What comes next in the trademark registration process?
At this point, you’ll have successfully finished the application process. Please be aware that it generally takes around four months from the date of application for a registration to be processed. The next stages will be:
- The IPO will send confirmation within four to six days.
- The IPO application examination will be completed within 20 days, and an examination report will be provided, offering you a chance to fix any issues.
- If there are no issues with your application, the IPO will push forward and publish in the trademarks journal for two months on your behalf, opening up your trademark to objection.
- If no objections are raised during this two-month period, your trademark will be officially registered, and you’ll receive a certificate of confirmation confirming the registration.
How to renew a trademark
Once you’ve purchased your trademark, you’ll have it for 10 years before you’re required to renew it. You can complete the renewal process between six months before your trademark expires all the way to six months after it expires. Renewal costs £200, and a £50 late fee is also applied if you renew after the trademark’s stated expiry date.
What are your trademark obligations?
- Registering your trademark is just the first step when it comes to protecting your brand. Franchisors will also need to:
- Double check they have control over quality of goods or services under the trademark.
- Dictate how aspects of the franchise should be run, and specify these dictations within the franchise contract.
Doing both of these things, and doing them well, will prevent any ill-intentioned future franchisees from using your trademark to mislead customers about the goods or services you offer. While a franchisee acting poorly wouldn’t be your fault, it would be your responsibility, as customers naturally associate negative experiences with an entire company, rather than a single store or branch.
After a single negative experience, 51% of customers will never do business with that company again [Help Scout]. The value of legally protecting yourself as a franchisor can’t be overstated.
Register a trademark and protect your legal rights
While the process required to register a trademark is a bit complex, and is bound to take some time, it’s still the safest route to take with your business. If you follow this comprehensive guide, you’ll do everything you need to do to secure your franchise’s legal rights.
Check out our wide selection of articles to discover past business basics topics, such as marketing, invoicing and payroll. Alternatively, you might like to discover the top traits of a good franchisor.
Cara Squires, Point Franchise ©