Guest Speaker: Freeman Harris “When should a startup register their trademark?”
Setting up a new company is hectic. There’s a large amount of things that need to be created, organised or started. If you’re new to the experience of running a startup, you’ll feel overwhelmed with all that needs to be done. Entrepreneurs have a lot in the way of support and guidance needed to run a company. A good way to overcome a high workload is by learning how to manage the process and what tasks should take priority. Certain tasks should naturally come first in order to protect and grow your business. One such task is protecting your startup’s intellectual property (IP), specifically trademark.
What exactly is a trademark?
A trademark is a sign which distinguishes a company’s goods or services from its competitors. It can be a word, logo or slogan. The words Coca Cola are a popular trademark. Same goes for the image below:
A trademark is an identifiable sign which becomes synonymous with a company’s good or services. The Apple logo above is immediately recognisable and customers would think of the products sold by Apple when shown this particular sign.
Why is a trademark important?
A trademark gives its owner monopoly over the sign in the market. It gives you exclusive rights over a name, logo or slogan in relation to specific goods or services.
An example of this is L’Oreal who use the slogan ‘Because You’re Worth It’ for it’s cosmetic products. No other company or person can use this slogan without permission. If they did, it would be infringing their trademark rights and thus liable to pay damages or profits earned to L’Oreal.
A registered trademark cannot be used by another company without permission. They have to be licensed by the owner.
When should a startup register their trademark?
The trademark registration process is long. In the UK, it can take between 4 to 6 months for a trademark to get registered, while in the EU the process lasts between 6 to 8 months. Ideally, a startup should start the registration process as soon as they have finalised their new branding, but only if it can be registered as a trademark.
Not all signs can be registered as a trademark. In order to register a word, logo or slogan, it has to be unique and distinctive. It should also not be generic in nature for e.g. it cannot describe a company’s products or services. A name like ‘Plumbers in London’ is too generic and descriptive to be registered. For this reason, a startup owner should research trademarks and consult with professionals before settling on a sign.
A common issue that many startups face is that they start using a name which cannot be registered or, more commonly, conflicts with an existing company. This results in an unwanted legal issue that diverts attention from growing a company.
Registering a trademark, like other IP, needs to be planned before being filed. A startup needs to analyse their name, and logo or slogan, from a legal perspective before using it. The brand lends itself onto the entire image of the company so this process needs to be developed with the idea of the business. Even investors only invest in startups who have their trademarks, design and patents registered.
Starting early and planning your trademark registration is the way to go, otherwise you can expect issues that you’d rather not deal with.