Carl Reader, the author of The Startup Coach, looks at trademarks. Why, the cost, and should you bother?

Trademarks can be vital – a key to recognition and a way for first-time customers to find you and for existing customers to find you again. While important, trademarking a logo isn’t essential, and I would wager that most businesses don’t even bother – and for many small businesses, I can understand this as cashflow is, rightfully, a focus. Trademarking can be a pricey exercise, particularly if trademark attorneys are involved, (though it is possible to do it cheaper online yourself).

While not all businesses have need of a trademark, if you’re looking to develop your brand, it’s definitely worth looking into. A trademark adds value to the imagery (and potentially words) that you have come up with, and it is something that would become vital, particularly as you look to grow.

What would be the impact if someone used your mark (or something similar)? In some cases, it isn’t a disaster. In others, it’s a very different story and can mean anything from identity mix ups to a loss of sales. Consider how it would affect your business if something else appeared on the market with a similar mark – potentially a competitor. Would it confuse customers, and could it be detrimental to your business? If so, your company’s ‘mark’ is an asset that it is worth considering whether you should protect from potential misuse.

I would recommend doing this preferably sooner rather than later (and ideally before you splash out on new stationery and advertising etc!).

Registering a trademark is relatively simple, and you can either do it yourself through the IPO (Intellectual Property Office), or if you’re unsure or it’s a more complicated case - through a trademark attorney. Once registered, you can stop others using the mark (or something that is similar to the registered mark), protecting you from losing even one sale from a potential customer to a competitor with a mark which resembled yours too closely.

Typically a trademark would cost you approximately £200 if registered yourself, or £500-£600 if you engage a professional to do it. There are different fees based on how many classes (types of business) you would like to register the mark for, and the whole process takes some time as the IPO have to check that there are no competing marks, and also that the registration is publicised should there be any objections.

Provided that the trademark fulfils the criteria set by the IPO – in that it is distinctive, that it’s not descriptive, not offensive, not deceptive, and not customary for your industry, the process should be relatively pain free. If however there is a dispute over the eligibility of a mark, it is worth seeking professional advice and weighing up whether it is worth proceeding with registration. I’ve personally registered marks myself and via professionals, and the attorneys know how to present a case in the event of a dispute, which I would not have otherwise been able to put forwards.

You would also need to consider whether you wish to register just a logo or words, and also whether you would like to register for just the UK or also overseas. It’s important to get registration correct at the beginning, as mistakes are difficult to rectify later, and this can cause issues when protecting your mark later on.

To hear more from Carl follow him on Twitter @carlreader or join “The Startup Coach” group on Facebook