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Some business assets, like stock, premises, or cash are easy to recognise. But other assets, like your business name, slogan, and brand identity, can sometimes be overlooked.

If another business uses your name or brand identity though, it can not only cost you some serious money but badly damage your reputation too. That’s why protecting your intellectual property and trademark is essential.

What is intellectual property?

Intangible assets (things you can’t see or touch, like brand reputation) are just as valuable as stock and buildings and other things you can touch. This is where Intellectual Property (IP) protection comes in.

An intellectual property right means that a business, or an individual, owns (and has protected) their intellectual property so no-one else can take it. In the UK, IP is generally broken down into the following categories:

  • Patent
  • Copyright
  • Trademarks
  • Designs (registered as well as unregistered)
  • Trade secrets

Good examples of intellectual property include inventions, logos, software, designs and research.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is basically a brand’s (or a product’s) badge that promotes the business and helps it stand out from the competition. It’s also instantly recognisable – think of the McDonald’s ‘M’ or the silver apple for Apple!

Trademarks are often represented by the ‘R in a circle’ ® which shows it’s a registered trademark. Sometimes the letters ‘TM’ are used instead.

Why should I protect my intellectual property and trademark?

Trademarks help customers recognise and trust your brand. They grab attention so you stand out in the market, and make it clear where a product has come from. Customers also associate some trademarks with consistency (a Big Mac always looks and tastes like a Big Mac, wherever you are!).

Once you have registered your trademark and intellectual property you can take legal action against those who use your brand without your permission. This includes anyone producing counterfeit versions of your product.

If you need to protect your intellectual property whilst you’re still in the early stages of development (or if it’s something that you won’t be making publicly available), you might consider issuing a non-disclosure agreement to the people you do business with.

Where can I get advice around IPR?

The Government’s guidance on seeking intellectual property advice is a great place to start for general advice on IPR which signposts you to a wealth of other sources and videos. The Intellectual Property Office is another reliable resource.

What protection can I apply for?

Once you’ve decided on the kinds of protections you need, it’s then important to apply for them as soon as possible.

Trademarks

Trademarks can include product names, logos, slogans and jingles but you’ll need to allow 4 months for application. Fees start from £170 but this depends on how you apply and whether you use the Right Start service to check if your application meets the registration rules.

Registered designs

This deals with the appearance of a product including packaging, shapes, patterns, decoration and colours. Applications take around a month with fees starting at £50 for one design. You can also pay for the IPO’s services to check your design is unique (£24).

Patents

Patents can be used to protect inventions and products, for example tools, machinery and machine parts, and medicines. Unfortunately, the process of applying for a patent can be long and expensive so allow around 5 years for them to be processed.

To be granted a patent, your invention must be something brand new that can be made or used, and inventive – not just a simple modification to something that already exists. Bear in mind that you can’t patent the following:

  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
  • The way information is presented
  • Some computer programs or mobile apps
  • A method of medical treatment or diagnosis
  • A way of doing business, playing a game or thinking
  • A discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method
  • ‘Essentially biological’ processes like breeding animal or plant varieties or crossbreeding plants

You can also have more than one type of protection linked to a single product. For example, you could:

  • Register the product’s name and logo as a trademark
  • Protect its unique shape as a registered design
  • Patent a completely new working part
  • Use copyright to protect drawings of the product

Register the business name

If you want to protect the name of a business, you could register it as a limited company with Companies House. This means that nobody else can use it or anything too similar.

You can even incorporate a company and then leave it dormant to protect the name until you’re ready to start trading.

Some companies will be incorporated with a business name, and use a different trading name for separate areas of their business.
 

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Is there tax relief available for intellectual property?

While registering IPR may not always be easy or cheap, there may be help available from the following resources:

The Patent Box

Administered by HMRC, the Patent Box scheme is designed to reward innovative UK companies. It does this by reducing the Corporation Tax on profits that result from eligible IP income to 10%. This can incentivise companies to keep their IP in the UK.

R&D tax relief

Although it’s not so much for the Intellectual Property itself, there is Corporation Tax relief available for companies that work on Research and Development (R&D), so you might be able to get support for the work that goes into generating your IP!

Somebody has infringed my trademark. What can I do?

If you believe another person or business has infringed your trademark, get legal advice before you do anything. The next step may include a carefully worded Cease and Desist letter. If that doesn’t work, you may need to take the other party to court. Again, this is why it’s important to get experienced legal advice to help you.

Without a trademark, it’s really hard to stop anyone using your business name or stealing your intellectual property. The only protection you may have is through the rules of ‘passing off’.

Passing off is where a third party makes a false representation which means customers may mistake a company’s goods or services for those of another company. If you believe that has happened, we strongly recommend taking legal advice to plan the best way forward.

 
Learn more about our online accounting services for businesses. Call 020 3355 4047 to chat to the team, and get an instant online quote.

About The Author

Rachael Anderson

A creative content writer specialising across business, finance and software topics. I have a love for all things writing, and creating engaging, easy to understand content that helps everyday people! Learn more about Rachael.

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