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Branding and Trade Marks

Branding is the use of names, marks, shapes, layouts, slogans, styles and colours to distinguish goods and services sold by one provider, from another.

Branding is targeted at the end user of the products/services in question and is designed to appeal to the target market.

A strong brand:

  • delivers a clear and consistent message
  • makes it easy for the customer to recognise the product/services
  • addresses the customer’s expectations (e.g., quality product, fast service, cheap)
  • maximises customer loyalty (e.g., buy the same brand)

Brands are based on the reputation of the products/services and are built up over time as customers come to expect certain things from a particular brand. Hence, they can have considerable value to their owner.

Trade marks

A component of branding is the name and/or the logo and/or colour used to indicate the brand on the products/services. These can be protected by legal rights that can prevent others from copying them.

Before deciding on a name, logo or colour, a thorough internet search for company names, use of the proposed name/logo/colour in general, and the same or similar registered and unregistered trade marks, should be carried out to ensure that it isn’t already being used by someone else.

Some companies use the letters ‘TM’ to denote that they are claiming a name or logo as an unregistered trade mark. This provides some legal rights, but it is easier to stop someone else from using a name/logo/colour that is a registered trade mark (normally indicated by the symbol ‘®’).

There are rules governing what is acceptable as a registered trade mark. It must: be distinctive; not describe the goods/services; and not be offensive.

An application for a UK registered trade mark is made via the UK Intellectual Property Office. A Community registered trade mark provides similar protection in about 28 members states of the European Union for roughly twice the price - such applications are made via the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM). 

Design right

A brand design in 2D (e.g., pattern) or 3D (e.g., overall visual appearance of a product), can be protected by design right. Unregistered design right may automatically exist when a design is created. However, this gives the owner weaker rights than when the design (that is new, has ‘individual character’ and is not immoral) is registered. As with registered trade marks, registered design right can be obtained for the UK via the Intellectual property Office and for the European Union via OHIM.

Domain names

A domain name is a key component of a branding strategy and is the name used by a potential customer to access information about the relevant products/services.

It should ideally be memorable, easy to spell and reflect the product/service in question. It can only include letters, numbers and hyphens, as spaces and symbols are not allowed.

Note that being the owner of a registered trade mark does not give the owner the automatic right to use the registered trade mark in a domain name. Similarly, having a domain name does not guarantee that a trade mark for the same name can be obtained.

An internet search for the same and similar domain names should be carried out before a domain name application is made. Once registered, a domain name can be kept indefinitely, subject to paying the renewal fees every 10 years. The WHOIS tool can be used to search all ‘.uk’ domain names. Domain names can be registered with a company that is an accredited registrar.

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