The freelancer's guide to intellectual property - part 1

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It is not just multinationals that need to protect their brand. Anyone who runs a  business should be aware of the pitfalls of not taking proper care of their image, writes Mark Kingsley-Williams (pictured), director of Trade Mark Direct. 

The Myth of Companies House

Let’s start by de-bunking some popular myths around Companies House.

Firstly, registering your company or product name with Companies House does not give you any trade mark protection, nor does it give any rights to use that name.

Secondly, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that Companies House won’t let two companies register identical names. It is possible for more than one person to own the same trademark, as long as it’s for very different goods and services, so again what happens at Companies House has no relevance. Likewise, owning a website address also offers no legal brand protection.

How to Create Your Brand

Establishing a corporate identify is one of the most important things a business will do, therefore ensure that you use a designer who understands basic trade mark law.

At Trade Mark Direct, we see time and time again incidences where the designer or brand consultant failed to check if the proposed logo or brand element met the legal requirements for trade mark registration, or even if it would infringe another company’s intellectual property (IP) rights. Either can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to correct.

Recently, a local Essex restaurant was forced to change its signage after a complaint by Harrods department store, which argued that the signage bore too close a resemblance to its own logo. “This could wrongly suggest some association between our organisations,” Harrods said. The cost to owner, Nigel Holland, was in the region of £10,000.

Who Owns the Logo?

When you use a reputable designer, the Terms and Conditions will usually state that all rights to the logo / design will pass to the client, once payment has been received in full, but do make sure that this important point of contract law has been covered.

Trade Marks – Why Bother?

Do not assume that someone else won’t start using a similar logo, even inadvertently. The register is becoming more crowded and it is generally the ‘first to file’ not ‘first to use’ who has rights (unless a company is trading more than five years and has a substantial reputation in market place).

Too many businesses put off getting a trade mark until it’s too late and someone else has already registered the company or product name they have been using. They then have to rebrand and start trading under a new name, which can be a very costly process.

The process to get a trade mark is not expensive - from under £500 - for rights that last for 10 years and can be renewed inexpensively. As Trade Mark law is complicated and the process is not straightforward, I recommend that you use trademark experts, like Trade Mark Direct.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part guide for creative freelancers on intellectual property, written by Trade Mark Direct, the UK’s leading online trade mark registration firm. Parts 2 and 3 will feature sole trader Vs limited company, brand value, Google AdWords and a freelancer’s IP checklist.


Apr 27, 2011
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