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Are you heading in the right direction? Trade mark searching

By Elizabeth Coulson.

Newspaper headlines are often highlighting the importance of checking whether a name or brand is free to use before it is launched in a chosen market. For example, the boy band One Direction faced a dispute the USA over the use of their name.

One Direction US sued the British X Factor stars over the use of the name which they claimed to have used first, claiming damages and a share of the boys’ royalties. However, the bands have now reached an agreement which includes a change of name for the US band to Uncharted Shores.

There have been disputes over the use of names by other X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent entrants, particularly when the group involved is put together quickly, or has not before benefited from a wide audience and found themselves brought to the attention of a prior right owner. This happened with the electronic string quartet Scala, who changed their name to Escala following a complaint, even though they had been active under their original name for two years. This year’s winners, Little Mix, were originally called Rhythmix but changed their name following a complaint from a charity of the same name.

These high profile stories are good examples of why it is important to check that your chosen name is not already being used by others on the same or similar products or services. The owner of a prior right in many cases is entitled to stop you from using the same (or similar) trade mark and can also claim damages and a share of your profits. Add to this the expense of relaunching under a new brand and of having to build up a reputation for that new name and you can soon see why deciding not to conduct a search before launch can be a false economy.

What should you do?

It is important to make enquiries in your chosen field before you launch your brand (or  band) – read trade papers, search the internet, check what domain names have been registered and by whom for the same or similar names and what the webpages contain. Most importantly, check the Trade Mark Register(s) which cover the territory in which you intend to operate. If you are launching in the UK there are three – the UK Trade Mark Register, the Community Trade Mark Register and the International Register – which provide protection of trade marks registered and used in the UK. A mark may have been registered by someone who has the intention of using it a little while in the future – but even though it is not currently being used it can still prevent you from using your name or brand.

Protect your trade mark by registration – the official fee for a UK registration starts from as little as £170. The final figure depends on what and how much you intend to protect.

This news item may contain information of general interest about current legal issues, but does not contain legal advice.