Imagery is vitally important to social media and online marketing, and the imagery that is most crucial is that which relates to your brand, such as your company’s logo. However, have you ever given thought as to how to ensure that only your own business can use that logo or imagery? This is where IP or intellectual property should come into your business thinking…

Learn how to protect your ideas...
Learn how to protect your ideas…
(Image via Shutterstock)

So you’ve had the brainstorming session, and you feel happy that you have decided on a great brand.  You’re all ready to press the button on design, marketing and launch.  But then someone says “should we protect it” and suddenly you have a whole new issue to investigate and address.

So do you muddle through trying to work out how to fill in a trade mark application yourself and hope that it is all OK, or do you decide to hire a professional?

Whatever the element of running a business we face, all business owners will be dealing with a balance of “what can I afford” against “what can I possibly do myself”. And sometimes the lack of knowledge of who to turn to can mean that you feel that the only option is to try and do it yourself. But if you can find an expert, not only should they provide technical expertise to ensure that you get the best result, you should also save a lot of management time.

So how do you decide on an IP attorney?  Well many people find themselves at the door of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).  The IPO cannot recommend anyone, but they will usefully signpost you to the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA) or to the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA).  Both of these can help you find qualified advisors close to you.  CITMA have a very useful post code tool that will provide you with a number of experts within a sensible radius of your location.

So from this array of advisors, how do you decide who to use?  Well the old adage of people do business with people is a good guide here.  Phone them up or email them and see how helpful they are at the initial point of contact.  Do they provide useful tips, ask questions to understand you better, and/or offer a free initial consultation?  Does the attorney speak to you personally or do they delegate to a team member to respond to your initial enquiry? You are planning on trusting this advisor with a very valuable asset so you need to be happy that they are the right fit for you and your business.  You need to be able to get on with your advisor.  If their tone or approach doesn’t work for you try someone else.  And of course fees will come into the equation as well so ask.  Clear unambiguous fee structures with some certainty or clarity over any ongoing costs are what you are looking for.

If it is a new brand you are considering, discussions should start with a focus on risk assessment.  Have you undertaken any research to ensure that the brand is free for you to use without conflict with competitors?  And we are not just talking about making sure it is not identical.  Registered trade mark rights give the owner the ability to prevent use of confusingly similar trade marks as well, so just changing one or two letters, using a phonetic equivalent with a different spelling, or making something plural or singular will not escape an infringement problem.

Many businesses can eliminate obvious clashes themselves.  Check Companies House names and domain name registrations.  Whilst neither of these provide exclusive rights to prevent you using a particular brand, they are a good guide that your brand may not be as unique as you first thought.  Use your own industry knowledge.  If you have a nagging feeling that it is too close to your main competitor just down the road, go with that gut feeling and consider choosing something else.  And use the power of the internet to look up who else uses your chosen brand.  If despite all this research you haven’t found anything that tells you your brand is a non-starter, then asking a qualified Trade Mark Attorney to conduct a trade mark register search will be money well spent.

I always say that the risk assessment search is the most important element to budget for.  If you can also obtain a trade mark registration that is the icing on the cake, but for most businesses being able to use their brand in the marketplace, particularly when they have spent time and money developing it and having marketing and packaging collateral produced, is the more critical issue.  And so a good advisor should also point you to undertaking your own initial research before incurring their fees on a register search.

Employing an IP advisor, whether a Trade Mark Attorney or a Patent Attorney, is about developing a long term working relationship.  The more they know about you and your business, the better they will understand how their role and your IP fit with your commercial needs.  And if that happens, your IP budget (yes you will need one of those) will be better spent and reflect more in the business value that you can build.

And a good advisor will tell you if there are less expensive or free options for what you need to achieve!

Michelle is a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney with over 20 years experience in the field of IP. She is the founder of Indelible IP Limited, which provides friendly bespoke advice and consultancy specialising in the protection of brands and product designs for the UK, EU and wider global markets.

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