The recent developments in social media, the internet, smart phone devices and advert-funded business models mean that we are constantly absorbing marketing campaigns and advertising materials without even realising it. Brand awareness is a crucial part of any successful business and in a consumer led market, where new and improved products appear on an almost daily basis, customers look to the brands they trust to tell them whether to buy the latest trend. Branding can make or break a business, so when starting out, what should you be thinking about and how can the law help you protect your company identity?
Nowadays, “brand” is an extremely wide-ranging term. It includes the type of product or service your organisation provides, your logo, slogan, company colours, design, symbols or other features that make your business identifiable to its customers. Your brand is what sets you apart from your competitors and, in essence, is the personality of your business.
There are several ways the law can help you. You may be aware of the well-known intellectual property (IP) rights like copyright, trademarks, designs and patents but have you thought about registering domain names associated with your brand or checking that your employment contracts and consultancy agreements include adequate provisions to ensure your IP remains company property?
Here are our Top Tips when thinking about brand protection:
• Research: Be sure to do your research before investing in a logo, name or slogan. Don’t assume that brand developers or IT designers will complete searches for you – we would always recommend taking specialist legal advice and instructing your lawyer to undertake comprehensive searches to ensure you are not infringing someone else’s IP rights. However, a Google search of your company name and slogan is a good first step to determining whether there are similar brands out there and this could save you on costs in the long run.
• Suitability: Is your branding suitable for your product or service? If you’re planning to trade in more than one country, make sure your mark does not have inappropriate connotations in different regions! Something that is appropriate in Europe might not mean the same thing in Asia.
• Don’t be too nice: don’t be afraid to protect your IP from your employees and contractors, particularly if your business is built on developing innovative products. Make sure that your employment contracts include provisions to protect the company’s IP in the event that someone leaves your business. Also, check whether your contracts give your suppliers a right to use your branding in their marketing material – do you want to be in control of where your company name or logo appears or could it act as positive advertising?
• Be Prepared: Don’t leave it till the last minute to think about brand protection – the trade mark registration system is on a “first come first serve” basis. You don’t need to be trading, using your mark or even associate it with a business to be able to register it. Likewise, registering a design can be a much quicker way of protecting your product. Being able to present registered IP rights as part of your company portfolio might help to impress potential stakeholders and secure you that investment…
• Be Aware: often, branding is thought about in detail when setting up your company but gets neglected once you’re up and running. Your brand should develop and grow with your company. Keep an eye on the market and ensure no one else is infringing your IP rights!
• Future Proofing: Look to the future – your registered IP can, in some cases, not only cover your current products or services, but also protect those which are reasonably anticipated in the future. Think about how you want your business to grow and what you’re aiming to achieve over the next few years.
Your brand should be intrinsically linked to your goals and strategy and, whilst it can be difficult to predict how your business will grow and develop, you could be tapping into the next big thing so make sure brand protection is on your radar!