More and more businesses are waking up to the fact that branding is extremely valuable. Branding consultancy research indicates that at least two thirds of the value in FTSE 100 companies lies in their brands. Despite this, it’s surprising how often it is overlooked or misunderstood.
Brands can be lost or devalued if they are not adequately protected; they can even be destroyed by a careless remark. Gerald Ratner, CEO of the jewellery group Ratners, once described some of his own products as ‘total crap’. After he said this, the value of the Ratner Group plummeted by around £500 million and it eventually had to be completely re-branded as the Signet Group.
A considerable investment of time, and often money, is involved in developing and maintaining a brand, whatever the size of your business. If you are going to make this investment, then it is vital you take legal advice to assess whether you are free to carry out your activities without coming into conflict with the legal rights of others.
It is also important that when you create a brand you know your rights when involving third parties such as advertising agencies. Unless something is signed to the contrary, you could find yourself in a position where that third party owns all the copyright in their creative output despite you paying substantial sums for the work to be carried out.
Some elements of a brand can get greater protection if they are registered. The most obvious and common form of protection is to register your business name as a trade mark. There is a common mistaken belief that registering a name at Companies House provides some degree of protection. This is not the case.
By registering your business name, brand name or logo as a trade mark, you are granted a monopoly on the use of that name for your goods and services, which will continue, providing you pay the renewal fees every ten years.
A trade mark can be anything distinctive that clearly identifies your goods or services, distinguishing them from those of other traders – not just business names or words. Sounds, shapes, slogans, colours and even smells can be registered.
You will need to be vigilant as to the use of your marks or similar marks by others in the same or similar market. You must be prepared and in a position to act promptly if you believe that someone is using your marks without your permission. You should educate your employees about the importance of trade marks; sales and marketing teams are often in the best position to spot any infringements.
Branding does not just concern big businesses – every business, big and small, should consider establishing a brand and also what IP assets it has that it could protect to give it monopoly rights and strength in the event of any later infringement.
For advice on trade marks or other intellectual property matters, contact
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