In today's world, unless you are living in the middle of the Sahara Desert or somewhere equally remote, it is impossible to avoid trade marks. For most of us, whether we realise it or not, exposure to trade marks is pretty much continual from the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we go to bed.
So what do I mean by 'trade mark'? In a nutshell, a trade mark is any sign which is used to indicate that a product or service comes from a particular person or company. The most common trade marks are brand names (think Lego, Chanel, Coca-Cola, Google), logos (think Audi's interlinked circles, the golden arches of McDonalds, the Nike 'swoosh/tick'), and slogans (think 'Because you're worth it', 'Snap! Crackle! Pop!', 'The World's Local Bank'). However, shapes, colours and even sounds can act as trade marks.
The primary purpose of a trade mark is to prevent consumers being confused between goods/services which come from different commercial sources. However, over time, a trade mark can also become an extremely valuable asset for its owner, influencing consumer opinion and fashions. Hands up, how many of us have bought a specific product because of the brand name appearing on it, in the (perhaps misguided) belief that it is better than a similar product bearing a different brand name? This demonstrates the power that a trade mark can have on public perception.
Of course, the specific brand names and logos mentioned earlier in this article have been around for years and have attained global recognition. However, this was not always the case. They started out as new creations and, only with time and the effort and investment of their owners, have they become so well-known. Big companies have understood the power and value of trade marks for a long time but, over recent years, that understanding has become far more widespread at the other end of the spectrum, among sole-traders and start-up companies, fuelled by television programmes such as Dragons' Den.
For the majority of people who set up their own businesses, there is nothing particularly new or unusual about the product or service that they are offering to the public. They will have competitors offering similar things. However, what can immediately distinguish them from those competitors are the trade marks that they use. Coming up with the right trade marks and knowing how to protect them are important lessons for new businesses to learn.
At Dehns, we help our clients at every step of their trade mark journey. We carry out clearance searches for new brand names, advise on whether trade marks are capable of achieving registered protection, and guide our clients through the registration process (whether protection is being sought here in the UK or overseas). We also advise our clients on their legal position should others adopt similar trade marks.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.