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IP and brand protection

Dids MacDonald, CEO of Anti Copying in Design (ACID) discusses IP and brand protection

Whether you are a sole, micro, SME or major brand, the name under which you trade says it all. Some create a signature brand trading under their own surname; others create a name by which they are known.

Most agree a strong brand is invaluable in a competitive market which intensifies month by month. Establishing customer confidence and the perception another holds about your performance - whether it's an organisation, idea, service or product - is a critical component of any brand strategy. As a brand grows there's an increasing expectation to deliver consistently and it forms the polar axis from which you communicate and differentiate your offer.

Intellectual property rights provide legal protection for brands in the form of a registered right, a trade mark, and this is a sign which can distinguish your goods from those of your competitors and it can be made of words, logos or a combination of both.

Why you should you register your trademark?
A UK trademark registration will give you an exclusive right to use it for the goods or services that you provide and will act as a deterrent against anyone trading on your name without permission. If someone does use your trademark without permission, it's easier to take legal action if you have a registered right. Proactively, you can use it for business building opportunities such as licensing or franchising. It's also a tangible asset for raising finance. You can also use the Registered symbol .

How can you register?
In the UK you can register through the Intellectual Property Office - www.ipo.gov.uk - and in Europe through OHIM, The Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market - www.oami.europa.eu. Other countries have their own registration bodies for trademarks. There's an agreement called the Madrid Protocol to which many countries have signed, offering country to country cooperation and recognition of national trade marks, making it easier to enforce outside the UK. Visit www.wipo.int

What is an unregistered trade mark?
Basically it means that you haven't officially registered your trademark but you can still use the TM sign adjacent to your company name and you may be able to take legal action if someone uses it without permission. This is called passing off. But, this isn't an easy route to pursue so registration really is a better option. Do not confuse registering your name at Companies House with registering a trademark. They are totally different.

What can't you register?
According to the Intellectual Property Office, trademarks can't be registered if they:
Describe your goods or services or any characteristics of them, for example, marks which show the quality, quantity, purpose, value or geographical origin of your goods or services
Have become customary in your line of trade
Are not distinctive
Are three dimensional shapes. If the shape is typical of the goods you're interested in (or part of them), has a function or adds value to the goods
Are specially protected emblems
Are offensive
Are against the law, for example, promoting illegal drugs; or;
Are deceptive. There should be nothing in the mark that would lead the public to think that your goods and services have a quality that they don't.

ACID's 10 top tips
1. IP strategy - ensure you include your trademark and brand protection as a priority.
2. Guard your brand fiercely but choose battles carefully. Never sue on principal, only if there is a quantifiable loss and a clear IP case to pursue. Publicise any settlements in the trade press to communicate a zero tolerance of IP infringement. The trade press is a small world and word soon gets out.
3. Territories - identify where you are trading and what are the risk factors? If your trademark is infringed in another country, where is your IP support? Have you registered your trademarks in that country?
4. Registrations - Create an IP portfolio of your design and trademark registrations, also including any patents you may have. This is also very useful for raising funding/investment or exit strategies.
5. Insurance - expensive but worth considering if continuing infringement is a significant issue.
6. ADR/mediation - It's good to talk! Consider alternative dispute resolution/mediation as an alternative to litigations.
7. Invest in the right IP advice with IP professionals and business advisors that have hands on trademark experience who know and understand your business and your marketplace. Those with demonstrable experience within your sector will serve you well.
8. Arm yourself with knowledge - Be IP aware! Watch competitors closely and watch the marketplace.
9. Respect the rights of others - essential within your own CSR.
10. Your brand - communicate internally and externally the importance of everything that sits under your brand. It is others' perception of you and your company that matters most.

To find out more, visit www.acid.uk.com

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