Are your trademarks up-to-date?

Protection of your brand is at the heart of any successful business, and especially a franchise, but like all property, it needs regular maintenance to keep its value.

Keeping your company image smart and modern to catch the eye of potential customers is part of any successful business operation.

Just as in the fashion world, business images and logos change over the years. Sometimes the changes are subtle: tweaking the font here and there, simplifying the logos for cleaner web presentation or updating the colours to give a more modern image. While the individual changes may be small, the cumulative effect can be dramatic. It is easy to forget that your trademark registrations can quickly become out of date.

Additionally are the services or products you offer exactly the same as you offered five or ten years ago? If your business has diversified, your existing trademark registrations could well be out-of-date – they are limited by the services you specified when the mark was registered.

Companies very often move into new fields, especially if their brand becomes well-respected. J.C. Bamford Excavators has had its well-known JCB logo registered for excavators since 1958, but with their good name offering brand-crossover opportunities, trademark coverage was extended in 1994 to include clothing, toys, power tools and even razors. In 2003, protection was further extended to cover financial services. In the intervening 36 years, the logo has been updated and re-registered as well. Do you need to add to your list of goods and services?

You might also have introduced some new brand names, perhaps for new services or new products. These should also be protected to keep your business safe. If you are trading in other countries, or wish to protect your brand name overseas for future expansion opportunities, you need to check the geographical scope of your brand protection. If Europe is important to you, then a Community Trademark gives cost-effective protection in all EU member states.

Also what about domain names? A rogue website using one of your brand names can unfairly trade off your good name. Worse still, inappropriate web content could tarnish your brand. Having a registered trademark gives you improved rights to evict cyber-squatters. This is particularly important when new domains are launched, like the forthcoming .xxx domain for adult content. Do you want your brand used on this domain? Trademark owners have an opportunity to secure protective registrations of these domains to prevent their brands being denigrated.

Finally, it could be worth signing up for a trademark ‘watch service’ to keep informed of other companies trying to register marks similar to yours. It’s often easier to stop them if you know early, and can intervene in the application process.

Like all valuable property, your trademarks need to be maintained to keep them up-to-date and give you the protection you need. They could be your biggest asset.

Peter Wilson is an Intellectual Property Attorney with ip21. Based in London and Norwich, ip21 prides itself on providing clear and commercially relevant advice of the highest quality. Its aim is to ensure its clients make well-informed, strategic decisions so the client can achieve its main goal of developing a franchise operation to its full potential.

Written by Peter Wilson (pictured)