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Companies trading online with no trade mark risk livelihoods

25th January 2012 Print

In 2012 a shocking number of businesses, around 90% of SMEs, are putting their livelihoods at risk by trading online without a trade mark, estimates Trade Mark Direct, the UK’s leading trade mark company.

It can cost a company thousands to re-brand. The cost to Frazer Evett, from Christian Clothing Alliance, who was forced to re-brand his company, as another company already owned the name, was £27,941. “This included stock we couldn’t sell, employing a designer to re-brand, re-working the website, re-ordering stationery, loss of materials and lost sales while rebranding,” said Frazer Evett.

Only 30,270 trade marks were registered in 2010 and this is despite over 400,555 new companies being registered (financial year 2010 – 2011) and as some will be for well-established companies it shows that far less than 1 in 10 new companies are trade marking their business name.

“Trading online without a trade mark is like rock climbing without a safety rope,” said founder and Director of Trade Mark Direct, Mark Kingsley-Williams. “Today’s online market place, where all businesses are just one click away from each other, means trade marks are more crucial than ever.”

British shoppers spent almost £32b online in the first half of 2011 and this trend is set to continue. Without a registered trade mark to protect a business, competitors can almost always get away with using another company’s brand name to trade under or even to register the name themselves and stop the existing company trading. It makes no difference that the company was first using it; or had registered the name at Companies House; or if they own the domain name.

“In the past a company in Edinburgh and say Portsmouth could co-exist reasonably happily sharing the same name or similar, as they advertised and traded locally, but in today’s online retail environment this isn’t possible,” said Mark Kingsley-Williams, founder and Director of Trade Mark Direct. “Now companies advertise side by side on search engines, and sell against each other on the likes of Ebay and Amazon. Companies must know where they stand either through registering their own brands as trade marks or at least ensuring they’re not infringing the rights of others. With the cost of a UK registration starting at under £470 they can then trade confident they are fully protected.”

Companies, including eBay and Google, honour registered trade marks and will stop infringing companies from trading on their sites. For example, the recent case of the iconic ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ war-time poster being trade marked with an EU Community Trade Mark has had a devastating effect on small businesses that were trading ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ memorabilia on eBay. (NB. Trade Mark Direct, at its own expense, has taken steps to have this trade mark cancelled to allow all businesses to once again freely use this slogan. A decision is expected in early 2012.)

A survey of 345 small businesses by Trade Mark Direct revealed that of the 85% of businesses that had not registered their trade mark, over a third (35%) did not feel it was important for the business.
It is possible to trade mark a name or the logo or both together as a single application. Each option gives a different degree of protection to your brand. The process is not expensive - from under £470 - for rights that last for 10 years and can be renewed inexpensively.

The trade mark symbol R can be used next to a word or logo that is registered. The symbols TM and copyright, C, do not mean that the name is trade mark registered.