Trade marks are everywhere, all over the world we recognise the significant marks of companies from the Apple on the back of a Mac, to the MacDonald’s golden ‘M’. How do you know you are walking into a Starbucks or a Pret? And, how do you know that the handbag is Micheal Kors or the trainers are Nike? You know because of the branding and the trade marks of these brands.

So, what’s a trade mark?

A trade mark is a type of intellectual property right for brand names, logos and slogans.

It is a distinctive sign used to differentiate the product or service between identical or similar goods and services offered by different producers or services providers. It does this in order to allow the consumer to recognise the product or service as coming from a particular company or organisation. In other words it’s how you know that if you open a bottle of Coca-Cola anywhere in the world you know what it will taste like. The packaging on the bottle – the name, the logo and the slogan, help you to recognise the product as the one relating to the company that produced it.

Once you have a trade mark it can be an asset of your brand and your business. It is a monopoly right, which means that no-one else can use it without your permission. You can use this to build up your brand image and reputation, or you can licence or assign it to another person. Some trade marks are worth

A trade mark registration lasts for 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely as long as it is still being used.

How do I get a trade mark?

Trade marks are registered with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). In the UK it is the UK IPO. Registration can be done online. And you register your mark against what is known as a ‘class’ – which is a category of either a good or a service. You can register in as many categories as is relevant to your particular creative trade.

What are the requirements for a trade mark?

There are certain requirements that your logo, slogan or brand name must fulfil in order to be accepted as a trade mark.

A trade mark must be:

  • A sign – so any word, short phrase or logo
  • Capable of being graphically represented – this means that you have to be able to explain what your trade mark is on the form either in words or with an image. This is so it can go on the record.
  • Capable of distinguishing goods or services – this means, considering the other products or services operating in the same field as you, does your mark distinguish yours from the others or would the consumer be confused?

A trade mark must NOT be:

  • Descriptive – your trade mark cannot be registered if it simply describes your product or service. You cannot use words that are common within the field because this would stop others from being able to use it in the ordinary sense.
  • Mislead the consumer – you cannot register a trade mark that might confuse the consumer in relation to your product or service and that of another.

What else do I need to know before I apply for a trade mark?

It is your responsibility to check the trade mark register before you apply for a trade mark to make sure that yours does not infringe one that is already registered. The register is public and searchable, you can find it here.

As with all IP, trade marks are territorial, so you should apply for a trade mark in the relevant country that you are in or trading in for example.

The British Library offer workshops at their IP centre on how to apply for a trade mark, see their events here.

For more information on applying for a trade mark from the UK IPO go here.

Should I get a trade mark?

Here’s a video from the UK IPO talking about how a trade mark can be an important asset to your business…


Trade mark troubles – and how to solve them

In this webinar, experienced trade mark attorney, Aaron Wood from specialist IP law firm, Wood, will explain what steps you have to take to defend your trade mark (even if it is not registered), how to avoid unnecessary costs and how to determine unjustified threats.

Trade mark troubles – and how to solve them on Vimeo.

Image credit: Adam Dudd, Be Bold, 2014: