Logos and symbols are some of the most important trademarks. Here's what you need to know to register yours
Words by Dr Martin Douglas Hendry
Introduction: trademark a logo
At Virtuoso Legal, we help businesses of all sizes protect their brands with trademarks. A lot of the time these brands are logos or symbols which are attached to their goods or services. We help businesses stop other people from using logos which are identical or similar by registering them as trademarks.
In this guide, we’ll be providing you with all the information you need to know to protect a logo or symbol by trademarking it. This form of legal protection can be tricky to get right, but with the right knowledge – you can trademark a logo in a way that protects your business for decades to come.
If you are a business with a recognisable logo or symbol and you don’t trademark it, you run the risk of other people using something that is the same or very similar – without being able to stop it in a powerful way. For a business, this means losing a distinctive presence in the marketplace. You want to stand out in the right way and stop other people from looking and feeling like you do. That is where trademarking your key logos and symbols come in.
Let’s get started.
Why is it important to trademark a logo?
One of the first things that businesses look to trademark is their name. Typically, this brand name is key to their presence in the marketplace.
Think of the name “McDonalds” for example. The fast-food chain first and foremost does not want competitors in the market calling themselves the same thing, or something overly similar to the point where it is confusing (e.g., “McDonals”).
But if you think about Mcdonald's’ there are several different things that come to mind. “The Golden Arches” “M” logo is perhaps the most obvious. This is an example of a logo which has been trademarked.
Despite being recognisable, brand names are not the entire story when it comes to brand recognition. Often, it is the logos and symbols which have a visual appeal that draws the eye and customers and clients through the door.
For this reason and many others, it is important to trademark the visual characteristics of brands (logos, symbols etc.) to make sure that the look and feel of a brand are legally protected.
How easy is it to trademark a logo?
The process of trademarking a logo is broadly the same as registering any other trademark. An application is made to the relevant intellectual property office (IPO) which specifies:
- The logo which is to be registered
- The classifications of goods and services which the trademark is looking to be registered in
- A specification of specific planned or ongoing use within these classes
This is submitted, and if the logo can function as a trademark and is not opposed by existing trademark owners then it is likely to be registered.
This process usually takes around 4-6 months and once granted the legal protection a trademark offers is usually backdated to the point it was submitted.
Despite this, there are several important things that a trademark applicant needs to be sure of when making an application.
These are as follows:
- That there is no one who has a trademark that is the same or similar
- That the logo passes a legal test that determines whether it can function as a trademark
- That the logo being registered is prepared properly to get the best protection for how it is going to be used
- That the classes it is going to be used in and specification are prepared correctly
This is all a fine art, and problems can arise if these challenges are not met – and it is recommended that if you have not successfully registered trademarks in the past that you seek assistance from trademark solicitors.
If you would like to speak to our team in relation to registering a logo as a trademark, click the button below.
Why is it important to protect brands, in general?
Businesses use brands as a way of standing out in their marketplace. Because of this, brands which remain distinct are typically those which are more successful. Brands stay distinct because if they are protected properly using trademarks, others will not be able to look or feel the same by using brands which are too similar. This means that people won’t get confused and always know that a product with a certain brand on it will always be what they believe it will be.
But how does this work exactly?
The function of a brand is to designate origin. This means to describe where goods or services originate from.
The benefit of this is that a business that produces goods or services builds a reputation around what they do – and when people buy branded goods, they do so safe in the knowledge that they know where it has come from.
This, of course, has a knock-on effect in the mind of the audience as the reputation that the company has also provided assurances as to the quality and reliability of the goods or services they’re going to receive.
When this is good, brands build reputation which keeps people coming back – and even referring other people too!
Protecting brands is an essential part of this exercise as even if you do everything else right and clients and customers are looking out for your brand, if someone else is in the market who looks and feels the same, they get the benefit of all your hard work - as your goodwill rubs off on them!
Ultimately this means loss of reputation and loss of revenue as others piggyback off your brands and hard work.
How easy is it to protect your brand?
Because of the above, it is important to protect your brands to make sure that you are a distinct proposition in the marketplace.
This means that when you build up a fantastic reputation and goodwill in what you do – you stand out for everyone to see amongst your competitors.
World-leading brands are comprised of many different elements, including words and symbols and combinations – all registered as trademarks.
As a business grows speaking to professionals about the best way to protect a brand in how it might be infringed upon is very important.
Businesses should consider:
- What are the most distinctive elements of their brand?
- What goods and services do these brands protect now, and in the future?
- Where are the key markets where this protection needs to be in place?
- What is a proportionate way to approach trademark protection now and in future?
It is important to make sure that a brand is protected in the most robust way possible – but it is best to “grow” brand protection alongside the revenue that branded products generate.
Speaking to a trademark specialist will help you understand the commercial considerations as they relate to protecting brands comprised of symbols and names.
If you would like to speak to our team about protecting your brands, click the button below to get in touch.
How is it possible to commercialise your brand?
When protecting brands, we always take a commercial approach. As above, robust and comprehensive protection is what keeps brands distinct in the marketplace.
Once a brand stops standing out it can be very difficult to become unique in the eyes of customers and clients again.
Despite this, strong brands protected by trademarks isn’t just about stopping other people from getting close and piggybacking off your strong presence.
It is also about leveraging your reputation in other commercial contexts, which for many businesses has proven to provide significant additional revenue.
The next section provides an outline of the different types of commercialisation that businesses undertake with comprehensively secured brands.
How do people go about commercialising their brand?
Below are some of the main types of commercialisation activity that attractive and comprehensively secured brands partake in.
Where the owners of brands license them out to others who can make use of them for a fee. A common example of this is in merchandising
For example, Manchester United’s merchandise is produced by a range of different manufacturers who vie for the license and pay Manchester United a portion of sale profit to use the brand on their merchandise.
Typically, to achieve a license from Manchester United (or other similar brands) the manufacturers would have to meet certain criteria set by the brand owner.
Highly sought-after brands such as Manchester United generate highly significant revenue from licensing and businesses with strong brands may also consider licensing activity as an additional source of revenue.
Other famous brands that are involved in licensing include (note that the owners of these brands will not produce merchandise etc. themselves, instead this is done under license):
- Star Wars
Franchising is another model of brand commercialisation that can generate significant revenue for brand owners.
Franchises typically operate in certain industries where a business model can be replicated alongside brand use. This usually involves very strict adherence to not only brand use guidelines but also business operations manual compliance.
This is seen in industries including, but not limited to:
- Food outlets (Mcdonald’s, KFC, Burger King)
- Transport (e.g., Taxi companies)
- Services industries (Pimlico Plumbers)
For certain types of businesses, the development of a comprehensively protected brand and business model can then result in franchising as the main business activity.
For example, Mcdonald's now operates very few restaurants itself as a business – instead, the company is now primarily focused on the maintenance of its franchisees.
Strong protection of brand names and symbols can also benefit collaboration between businesses.
As you build your reputation and those of the brands that your business deploys – this creates increased appeal for collaboration which combines the appeal of your brand with others.
Robust protection is useful here insofar as it maintains the distinct appeal of your brand, whilst also presenting you as an attractive and robust proposition for collaboration.
These are just some basic examples. What is key here, however, is that strong and attractive brands generate more revenue than those which are indistinct or weakened by competitor activity in the marketplace.
If you would like to speak to our team about commercialising brands, click the button below to get in touch and learn more about how we can help you.
How do logos, symbols and brands help with promotion?
Strong brands which provide a distinct look and feel in the marketplace are key for business promotion.
As with the above, brands which are comprehensively protected provide a business with a strong and distinct marketplace presence.
For world-beating brands this typically means global trademarks (or at least in key markets) which protect:
- Business name
- Key product names
- Symbols and logos associated with the business
- Symbols and logos associated with key products
- Other key branding elements that provide distinctiveness (e.g., shapes and colours)
The combination of all the above is what makes a company like Coca-Cola so ubiquitous and equally distinct – as the company protects all the recognisable elements associated with its products.
How is the promotion of brands achieved?
Brand promotion is achieved through several different avenues. Again, the key to the success of these activities is a comprehensively protected and distinct brand. This is achieved through a multi-pronged approach to brand protection with a range of brands being created protected and promoted.
Brand promotion broadly falls under the remit of marketing within a business.
In essence, the objective behind the promotion of brands is to build a positive reputation which increases the appeal of products and services to customers and clients. In the best-case scenario, this results in lifetime recurring revenue as the buying public continue to come back for more.
Crucially, all this goodwill is “stored” in brands protected by trademarks – as this is what the buying public is on the lookout for when they are making purchasing decisions.
Promotional activity can include:
- Marketing campaigns undertaken via social media, email, print, broadcast media
- Events and initiatives
- Collaboration with other brands and businesses
- Goodwill and word of mouth
In conclusion, trademarking symbols and logos associated with a business is an important step in the process of building a world-class brand reputation.
It is something that safeguards the visual “eye-appeal” of a brand and if effectively managed creates a distinct and unique presence for a business’ brands in the marketplace.
Effectively protected, these brands form the cornerstone of commercialisation and promotional activities which establish a brand’s presence, appeal, and magnetism to the buying public.
However, it is vital that a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to registering brands individually as well as collectively is undertaken.
To speak to our team of trademark registration specialists to register your symbol as a trademark or achieve excellent brand protection, click the button below.
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Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.
Disclaimer: This FAQ should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only. You are urged to consult your own solicitor on any specific legal questions you may have.