Trademarks - what's in a name?
How it started
I've been a freelancer for a number of years now, the last 9 trading under the name of Smallbizbod. I’m in a handful of online and face-to-face networking groups, have business pages on Facebook and LinkedIn, and obviously have a website (ok, that's pretty obvious as you are here reading my blog 😉)
My business name came about quite by chance; I’d been freelancing alongside full-time work on and off for a long time but when I was made redundant with only a couple of months to go before Christmas, I decided to advertise myself to small businesses and sole traders. I looked into setting up a website but instead of using my name I wanted something short and catchy. Smallbizbod popped into my head, and stuck.
How it’s going
It’s only in the last couple of years that I've noticed an increasing number of companies using business names comprising “small biz xyz” or similar and I got to thinking about what would happen if someone else decided to use Smallbizbod as their own, and what would that mean for me.
Firstly, my business could be confused for another, and while that's not necessarily an issue in itself there's a risk that I could receive poor feedback in error, or have potential clients directed to the wrong company when searching online.
And then I thought about how difficult it could be if someone else chose to trademark my business name. Would I have to change it? What would need to be amended to show a new name? What about my website? I have the domain registered, and the website and email address are linked to pretty much everything I do…this was starting to get more complicated, so I did what I do best and made a list!
Business documents – letterheads, contract documents, terms of service
Social Media accounts – business pages and linked personal profiles
Advertising sites (yes, even the free listings) – Yell, Google, BT online
Business cards and keyfob (ask me about this – I love it!)
At this point I realised how much I had already invested in my business name, and how attached I’ve become to it.
Intellectual Property Office (IPO)
Once I’d made the decision to keep hold of the Smallbizbod name, I set about looking at how to protect it. Don’t get me wrong – the process wasn’t quick, and there were fees to pay, but the first thing I needed to do was check the IPO’s online journal to check the name wasn’t already on it.
The Intellectual Property office gives information and guidance on what constitutes intellectual property, and what protections are available, including patents, trademarks, copyright and designs and this can all be found at their website: https://www.gov.uk/intellectual-property-an-overview. You can trademark your company name, company logo, or a mixture of the two as long as they meet the guidelines, and the application can all be completed online.
The main stumbling blocks will be trying to trademark a name that is already in use. Even if you believe your name is unique, the IPO will advise you if they think it is too similar to one already protected and send a notice to whoever holds the existing trademark. They will then be given the opportunity to oppose it if they believe there could be confusion between the two brands.
Additionally you cannot trademark a generic word – you wouldn’t be able to trademark the word “Laptop”, for example, but you may be able to use “Fred’s Laptops” (Disclaimer: I don’t know if Fred’s Laptops is available to trademark – you would still have to check the online journal 😁).
Once the fees are paid, and the application completed, it’s very much a waiting game. Your application is published by the IPO, beginning a statutory wait period during which an opposition may be filed. Details of the opposition process, and what you can do if you receive an objection, are all available on the IPO’s website. I started my application in May, and in September (I did say it wasn't quick!) I received an email with my certificate attached:
So what should I do with it? I have various options: I could just file my certificate away and renew it in 10 years, but for extra protection to enforce my rights I should create a search on the IPO’s Trade Mark Journal to alert me if any similar marks are applied for, update my business documents and contracts to show the business name is protected, and add the little ® to my company name denoting it’s a registered trademarked.
For now I have peace of mind that my business name is officially recognised as my own property:
If you would like help to get started on your trademark journey, or with any other support for your business, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me using the chat function.