The true cost of trade-marking

There’s been some interesting publicity of late about large corporations fiercely protecting their registered trade marks. Simon Cowell is currently embroiled in a potential trade mark infringement with voluntary organisation Rhythmix and that well known company Apple are threatening a small family run coffee shop in Bonn with infringement of their Apple logo

All this got me thinking about the true cost of Trade Marking. The actual protection process itself can be relatively affordable if you want to register say just in the UK under 2 classifications. Multiple territories and classifications means costs start to mount, but add to that the time and costs involved with monitoring and then taking action should there be an infringement, well that’s a fair chunk of money.

Big companies usually have deep pockets but this is not often the case for smaller enterprises. You have to balance up the value of a trade mark or multiple marks for your business against the costs of monitoring and potentially having to take action should someone blatantly copy or infringe your mark.

I’ve been through the Trade Marking process on two separate occasions; once when establishing one of the first UK online business information portals and secondly more recently to protect my company name.  The first time, we instructed a Trade Mark Attorney to complete the registration for us across a number of territories and to ensure continued monitoring for potential infringements. We hadn’t trade marked anything before and on first look it seemed to be a complex process so appointing professionals seemed the best approach. The attorneys were put to good use a while after successful registration as a couple of potential infringements appeared but were swiftly dealt with. The financial cost was significant to us, however the attorney’s argument of course was that this was not as significant should the company infringing continued to trade on our company name and goodwill. Fair point.

Second time around we’ve decided to do it ourselves as we are keeping things relatively straightforward by registering in just one territory (the UK), were clearly able to identify the classes to be registered in, and used the Right Start system through the Intellectual Property Office (UK) so could pay by 2 instalments – a helpful option when cash flow is tight.

It’s too early to say yet whether doing it ourselves this far will prove to be the better option. I guess it depends on whether anyone tries to register or trade under a similar name. But let’s be clear about one thing – simply securing a registered trade mark is not enough. You have to be prepared to monitor changes and new marks for infringements (you can pay for a trade mark watching service starting at around £110+ per class per year), monitor new company registrations and trading companies, and be prepared to spend the money to take action should someone attempt to copy or infringe your mark. If my company discovers someone is infringing our mark then we will almost certainly need professional help to defend that mark.

Do I have a view on what’s going to happen between Apple and the coffee-shop? Well I’m not a lawyer but to my eyes I can see no infringement of their apple logo at all. I really hope in this case the small business wins but I can’t help wondering at what cost….

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