When does a start up need to register a trademark?

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Every time you create a product, service, or business, you need a brand identity for it. Without doubt the most important element of most brands is the name.

The law protects names through trade marks.  It is not possible to claim copyright in a name, even if the name is one you made up.

Start ups often wonder whether they need to spend the £500 or more it takes to register a UK trademark (more for an EU one as the official fees are higher).  Some wonder why it’s not enough to have registered a company or domain name.   Yet others have heard of unregistered trademark rights being acquired through use, and wonder why they should not just use the name without bothering with any trademark registrations.

Company and Domain name registrations are insufficient

The short answer to whether company or domain registrations are enough is no.  Domain and company names do not give you the necessary rights you need in a name.  (I will explain the reason for this in a blog post next week).

Trademark registration is the way to protect a name, and get the necessary rights you need in a name in which you will be building your brand.   It is not a good idea to rely on unregistered trademark rights (again to be explained in a future post).

What is a good name?

A good name will help you to brand your business successfully.  But to pick a name that works involves more than meets the eye at first.  The name must convey the desired personality characteristics, sometimes across world markets and in multiple languages.  Additionally, the brand name must be legally available and distinctive.

Often a name is the first issue you need to consider before beginning work on designs, websites, and marketing materials.

Should you register the name?

It all depends on how important the name is to you.  If you’ve found a name you are excited about, and want to use long term for your business, then you should immediately register it as a trade mark, before you do anything else.

If you are not that bothered by the name then don’t worry about trade marks.  Once you’ve established that you are not infringing on anyone else’s rights, just go ahead and use the name.

Conclusion

So, when you’re starting a new business, pick any name based on whether your desired domain name is freely available to register.  Don’t spend much on getting an identity sorted for your business either.

Just focus on getting the business off the ground.  If your business is viable and works, you will rebrand once you’ve found your feet.

At that time, you will pick a new name, get an identity and register the name as a trademark.

On the other hand if you have coined a really inventive name, and like it, or don’t want to have the hassle of a rebranding exercise later, then of course you should invest in the name by properly protecting it with a trademark.  Next week I will explain why you should never rely on building up unregistered trademark rights in a name you are keen to use for your business long term.  If the name is available then register it even before you start your new business.