Does your new business brand pass the legal fitness test?

2 mins | 16/02/2017 | Michelle Ward

Bringing to life the business that you have envisaged is exciting, and quite often you’ve had a name in mind for that business which has helped to power forward all your plans.

You might have a heavy emotional attachment to that name – it’s perfect for the market and puts across just the right message.

But it’s worth just stepping back and detaching yourself from that emotional involvement to run a few risk assessments before launching headlong into using your brand name.

The worst thing that can happen for your newly launched brand is for a solicitor’s letter to land on your doormat, telling you that you’re infringing their client’s rights, and must immediately cease use, destroy product, rebrand and pay costs.

For many small businesses, if that happens it can mean financial ruin.

So how do you minimise the risk of this happening?

The answer is research – plus a bit of emotional detachment. You can love your brand again soon, don’t worry.

Trademark registration

In the UK, and many other countries, the strongest name right is a trademark registration.

If someone owns a trademark registration they can stop you from using something that is the same, or something that’s sufficiently similar that customers might get confused and assume that there is a connection, or that you are one and the same business.

This means that just changing the spelling, or adding an “s” on the end, are unlikely to get you out of a problem.

How do you research your brand? 

The first things that most people look at are company names and domain names.

These are a good start, and if you find that the name is already taken this is going to force a rethink anyway.

Then there is your own industry knowledge of what is out there, plus the power of your favourite search engine.

If you find something that makes you wince as being a bit close, use that gut instinct and pick a new brand.

The critical research that most people forget, or don’t realise should be done, is a look at the trademark register.

The UK Intellectual Property Office website has an online searchable database of trademarks in the UK.

If you find a registration the same as your favoured brand, that really is a good indicator to pick something else.

If you want help in assessing the question of similar trademarks, and don’t want to take the risk of your own assessment missing critical points of law, then a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney can assist.

Once you have done your research and settled on your brand, don’t forget to get your own registration. It gets in your claim to the brand, and is powerful both as a deterrent and as a tool to act if someone does copy you.