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How to register a trademark in the UK

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Registering the name of your products and services is a great way to protect your brand. However, there are costs involved and you need to remember to renew the trademark every 10 years. Here are all the rules you need to be aware of before, during and after registration.

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What is a trademark?

A trademark is a type of registered intellectual property right. It protects a company’s brand by preventing other people or businesses from stealing or copying it.

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You can trademark a wide variety of things, including logos, slogans, or service or product names. In fact, the Trade Marks Act 1994 defined a trademark as any sign which is capable of both:

  • Being represented in the register in a manner which enables the registrar and other competent authorities and the public to determine the clear and precise subject matter of the protection afforded to the proprietor

  • Distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings

It adds that a trademark can consist of words (including personal names), designs, letters, numbers, colours, sounds or the shape of goods or their packaging.

Your trademark cannot:

  • Be offensive

  • Specifically describe the goods or services it relates to

  • Be misleading

  • Be too common and non-distinctive

  • Be just a generic shape associated with your business

  • Make use of national flags you do not have permission to use

  • Make use of official emblems or hallmarks

A trademark protects brands, logos, business names and slogans. The defining features can include words, sounds, images, colours or a combination of these. By registering a trademark, you can take legal action against anyone who uses your brand without permission, including criminals who may want to counterfeit the goods you sell. It also allows you to sell and license your brand. The trademark will last for 10 years before you need to renew it.

Patents are designed to protect inventions. To get a patent, the invention must be something that can be made or used. It needs to be new rather than just a modification of something that someone else has invented. Finally, it cannot be publicly available anywhere in the world. Patents are more expensive than trademarks, and the process is more complex and can take several years.

Copyright is an automatic protection for original creative works. You don’t need to apply or pay a fee, but they are time-limited. That means that after a certain period, your work becomes part of the public domain. Copyright prevents other people from copying or distributing your work, performing it, lending copies of it and posting it on the internet. It protects things like literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, including photos. It also protects software, web content and databases. 

How do I register trademarks in the UK?

To register, you have to send details of your trademark and the goods and/or services you want it to cover to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). You need to include the words or slogan you want to use, or an illustration of your logo for example. 

You can apply using an online form or by post. You’ll also need to include your personal or company details. 

Trademark classes

There are 45 different classes of trademarks in the UK and you need to choose at least one when applying. These describe the type of business or service you provide and include things like telecommunication, industrial oils and greases, machines and machine tools, vehicles, advertising, transport and alcohol.

You also need to decide what term, or terms, to choose. These are specific groups within the classes. For instance, sportswear or knitwear could be terms under the class clothing. It’s critical to get this right because your trademark will only protect you within the classes and terms that you choose. You cannot add more terms after you have submitted your application.

You can choose multiple classes or terms, but they must be relevant to your business over the next five years. If you don’t sell any goods or services within a term or class you’ve chosen, your trademark can be challenged and you might face legal costs.

Check your trademark doesn't clash

Once you’ve decided, you need to search the trademarks database to check if your preferred trademark is the same or very similar to someone else’s. If it’s too close, your application will fail. You can choose to pay £100 for a Right Start Application, in which case the IPO will check for similar trademarks before you commit to paying the full fee. 

The IPO will also publish your request on GOV.UK so that people can oppose it if necessary. People could also search for your application and use details from it in an unscrupulous way. For instance, they could buy up matching internet domain names. So, make sure you’ve purchased everything you need before applying. 

The IPO will inform you if your application has problems, and you will need to fix any issues before you can proceed.

Once the IPO registers your trademark, you receive a certificate. This will allow you to object to other trademarks that you think are too similar to your own. You will also be able to sell, market, licence and mortgage your trademark.

How long does it take?

If there are no issues, it usually takes the IPO around three or four months from the day you apply to approve your trademark. 

What happens if someone objects to a trademark?

The IPO will examine your application within two to three weeks. It will send you an examination report which tells you if there are any problems. If there are objections, you’re allowed two months to resolve them.

Once you’ve solved any problems (or if there were none to begin with), your application will be published in the Trade Marks Journal for two months. People can oppose your application during this time. If someone does oppose it, you can either talk to them to resolve the issues, withdraw your application, or pay legal costs to defend your application.

How much does it cost to trademark a company name?

The costs can vary significantly depending on how many classes you want to apply for, but the minimum you can spend is £170. This will allow you to register a single trademark in one class, each class you add after that costs £50. 

If you opt for a Right Start Application, where the IPO checks your trademark is within the rules before you apply, you’ll have a bigger bill. You pay £100 for one class plus £25 for each additional class for the Right Start checks and then a further £100 (plus £25 per class) to continue your application or challenge the decision.

Renewing your trademark costs £200 for one class and £50 for every additional class.

Do I need a solicitor to register a trademark?

You can get free advice about registering a trademark from the IPO, an intellectual property (IP) clinic or the British Library Business and IP Centre in London. If you’re confused about classes you can email the IPO’s classification enquiries team at the following address: tmclassificationenquiries@ipo.gov.uk.

If you wish, you can also seek professional advice from a solicitor. You should look for a trademark attorney, who will have the right expertise. If you choose to engage a solicitor, you will have to pay for their services which could be costly. It’s common for trademark attorneys to charge anywhere between £600 – £1,000 (plus VAT) for a single class application.

Do I need to renew my trademark registration?

A trademark only lasts 10 years. If you want it to stay in force, you need to renew it every decade. You also need to report any changes to your trademark including changes to personal details, decisions to give up your rights or notice that you wish to appoint a representative.

Do I need to register a trademark abroad?

If you want to protect your brand in other countries, you will need to register your trademarks abroad. The government has useful guidance on how to do this on GOV.UK

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