What is a trade mark?

A trade mark is an indication of origin that distinguishes goods or services of one trader from those of another. It therefore allows customers to associate your business with a particular product or service. Trade marks can take many different forms. For instance a name or word; a logo; a slogan; and a combination of any of those elements. It is event possible to register a colour, a sound, or a smell!

Some well-known and effective trade marks are, for example, the iconic Apple logo and business name or the ‘golden arches’ of McDonalds.

There are however some restrictions concerning the registration of trade marks. The trade mark must be “distinctive” so that it can be recognised as a sign that differentiates your goods or service as different from someone else’s. For instance, a promotional statements such as “the best that money can buy” would lack distinctive character.

In addition, a trade mark cannot be “descriptive” of the goods and services. It is often tempting for companies to choose a name that is evocative of what they make or do, and this can lead to objections.

The trade mark should not be “deceptive”. In other words the trademark should not lead to the public thinking that your goods have a quality which they do not have.

Certain signs such as protected emblems, or trade marks that may be viewed as offensive are also excluded.

In the UK, one can register a trade mark in different classes of goods or services. There are 45 classes to choose from, for example class 15 covers musical instruments. The UK follows an international classing system for trade marks known as the NICE classification of goods and services. It is important to select the classes that best cover the types of products your business deals with in order to strengthen your brand and gain protection in the correct areas.

While identical trade mark may coexist in different classes of goods and services, a trade mark will be rejected if it is identical or similar to an earlier trade mark registered for the same or similar class of goods or services.

For example trying to register a trade mark similar to the McDonald’s logo but for the letter ‘w’ would likely not succeed as it would be regarded as ‘confusingly similar’ to an earlier trade mark. In other words, the registration of your trade mark will confuse the customers of both McDonald’s and your business.


Why is it important to register your trade mark?

A registered trade mark will provide several benefit to your business. As discussed above, it will help to distinguish your business’s products and/or services from those of your competitors which will in turn help you build brand recognition. Consistent association of the trade mark with your goods and/or services will build your business reputation whilst also promoting the quality of the products you provide. A registered trade mark will also provide a protection for your business’s reputation as once registered you can prevent other companies from using a similar trade mark which might confuse customers or damage your reputation if the similar mark is being used for goods and/or services which are of bad quality thus lowering the quality of your products in the minds of the customers. A registered trade mark can also be licensed or sold to other companies.


What protection do you get and how long does it last?

Once your trade mark has been registered, you will then have a number of exclusive rights pertaining to the trade mark. In particular, the owner of a trade mark can prevent others from using their trade mark to benefit from the reputation associated with the mark.

This may include preventing someone for instance a counterfeiter from:

  • Affixing the trade mark to goods or packaging
  • Offering, putting on the market or stocking for those purposes any goods bearing the trade mark
  • Offering or supplying services under the trade mark
  • Importing or exporting goods bearing the trade mark
  • Using the trade mark as part of their business name, business materials or advertising for their company

Also, when you have a registered trade mark this allows you to contest actions from your competitors if they attempt to register a similar or identical sign to yours for the same or similar goods and/or services.

In the UK, once registered, a trademark is protected for 10 years from its filing date and may be renewed indefinitely provided the appropriate fee is paid every 10 years.

Takeaway message

Essentially, a trade mark is one of the most important tools you can use when branding your business. It will help you to distinguish your goods and/or services from those of your competitors. It can help you to build customer loyalty, protect a business’s reputation, and have significant commercial value. With a registered trade mark you will be able to take legal action against any person using it without your permission. You are also able to license or sell a registered trade mark which can provide a commercial advantage for your business.



At Scintilla, we help innovative companies get a grip on their intellectual property. Our unique commercial approach combines registration of patents and trade marks with strategic input so that IP can be a springboard for business growth. If you would like to discuss your IP needs, do contact us or book a free initial consultation!