You’ve worked long and hard on developing your brand, looking at all the different elements from logos, fonts, colours, photography etc, how and where you will use it and what it means to you and your customers. The Brand Identity (look and feel) and the Brand Image (what it says about you) is all set in place.
So now you need to look at how you can – and should be – protecting your brand.
Your brand is one of your most valuable assets. It represents you, your staff, your product or service and your reputation. You do not want it to be diluted, damaged or copied by your competitors – whether intentionally or not. There are ways you can protect your IP (Intellectual Property);
The first and most common is to register your brand trademark. This typically protects your name and logo as used across all mediums. A trademark prevents anyone else copying or using a similar name or logo, and gives you legal rights to contest anyone who may choose to attempt to. Registering a name and logo trademark is often the main step for a service business in particular as there isn’t a physical product to protect. There was a case recently where a local independent grocery store owner tried to brand his shop Singhsbury’s.
Photo from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-40416049
Having been challenged by Sainsbury’s he cheekily then tried Morrisinghs…
Jel Singh Nagra previously named his shop Singhsbury’s, but was forced to take down the sign and change the name after Sainsbury’s threatened to take him to court.
Photo from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-40416049
Trademarks can also protect your slogans, assets, colours, sounds (MGM lion roar) and smells (perfume). Toy giant Hasbro is currently trying to trademark the smell of Playdough.
Brand identity legalities are not won on ‘Who was here first’, or ’Who’s the biggest’, it’s about proof of usage and by having the appropriate trademark. A UK trademark registration lasts for 10 years, so you need to ensure you pay any renewal fees before it expires.
Where trademarks protect your brand, copyright protects original artistic or literary works. This can include writing, music, art and photography, and unlike trademarks, DO normally operate on a ‘Who did it first’ basis – provided you can prove it.
Some newsworthy cases include Vanilla Ice sampling David Bowie/Queens’ Under Pressure baseline, Apple and Microsoft on interface designs, and Campbell Soup vs Andy Warhol over who stole from who.
Copyright does not require an official registration in the UK, so it’s really important when designing marketing materials you copyright the ownership and build rules into any contracts for usage and reproduction. Some copyright claims have been settled by a donation or gift in kind, rather than retraction.
SO that’s all the technical bit – what do you need to think about to protect your brand?
- Web content – you can display your registered trademark and code your site so that text or images cannot be copied.
- Corporate literature, signage, livery and sales materials – logos, fonts, colours and designs are all protected under one trademark.
- Social Media – harder to monitor but any use of logos and associated fonts and colours are protected under the trademark.
- Set up Google alerts – monitor where your brand is being mentioned so you can keep a check on it and also see what your competitors are doing.
- Use IP Protection – whether you need a registered trademark, copyright or patent you should contact your legal advisers on how to set this up and any costs involved. Alternatively you can visit Gov.UK to obtain forms and check on fees.
- IP symbol
- Internal Communications – ensure that all your staff understand your brand values, trademarks and copyright rules, and include them as part of your brand guidelines. Especially for marketing, design, PR, IT and events teams who will be replicating them more than others in your business.
- Think globally, not just nationally – it is important to protect your brand and company in other territories (even if world domination isn’t in your plans), you should be aware if it is being damaged elsewhere, whether on web, in design or culturally in language used.
There are different rules on registering your trademark outside of the UK, so you need to be sure you have covered all eventualities.
A patent is “a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention”.
If you are inventing a new product or design, or even a modification to an existing design, it is imperative that you register the patent so that no one else can copy it and make money from it. Three basic steps are:
- check if a similar patent to your invention already exists
- track the progress of a published patent application
- see if patents are available to license
An example of people winning or losing because of patents can be seen in the originators of Loom Bands and Fidget Spinners.
In 2011, Michigan inventor Cheong Choon Ng of Rainbow Loom created the original Loom Bands, a simple board, hook and elastic band device for making creative charms and toys. His life changing moment came four years ago when he saw his girls making bracelets out of rubber bands. His fingers were too big to play along so he made another out of loom.
Seeing the potential, Cheong made a plastic version, patented it and then spent his £5,800 of family savings to get it made in China on the cheap. The Rainbow Loom kits went on sale for £10 in summer 2011 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Conversely, the inventor of the original fidget spinner – the toy that has quickly become a craze in playgrounds around the world – Catherine Hettinger should be enjoying the high life.
But the Florida-based creator is not making a penny off her genius invention, even as global sales of the gadget she envisioned (two decades ago as a way to entertain her seven-year-old daughter) soar into the tens of millions and suppliers struggle to meet massive demand. Hettinger held the patent on finger spinners for eight years, but surrendered it in 2005 because she could not afford the $400 (£310) renewal fee.
Protecting your Brand Image
We’ve talked about how to protect your IP, but what about your image? The way your brand is perceived is equally important, and can make or break a company. Each and every contact with a potential customer is giving off an impression about your brand. What level of detail are you sharing, what tone of voice, and what level of trust are you instilling? PR and advertising can play a big part in protecting your brand. You must be thoughtful, honest and transparent. If there is a complaint, deal with it quickly and fairly. More and more companies are using social media to manage customer relations, but that also means all the comments – good and bad – are out there for the world to see. So it’s really important to do the right thing.
I remember as a child collecting Lego figures from the local Shell garage, and years later discovering Shell was in conflict with Greenpeace about drilling under the ice plates. I was conflicted about remaining a customer, as I loved Lego and didn’t have a real opinion of Shell, but knew damaging the ice caps was bad for global environmental reasons.
And in modern times we have a number of large corporates allegedly avoiding large tax fees, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped enough people buying their coffee or listening to their music to damage the corporate turnover. Are we getting more blasé – maybe. But complacent? Never!
Your brand is your future. Protect it now so it stands the test of time.
Do you have a story about protecting your brand? Could you offer any advice based on your experience? We would love to hear about it.