A trademark is simply a sign or symbol to identify the origin of a product (or service) to consumers.

The Cambridge dictionary gives a sensible explanation in plain English:

“a name or symbol on a product that shows it was made by a particular company, and that it cannot be used by other companies without permission.”

The Trade Marks Act 1994 gives the legal definition of a trademark in the UK:

“trade mark” means any sign which is capable—
of being represented in the register in a manner which enables the registrar and other competent authorities and the public to determine the clear and precise subject matter of the protection afforded to the proprietor, and
of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings.
A trade mark may, in particular, consist of words (including personal names), designs, letters, numerals, colours, sounds or the shape of goods or their packaging.

Most trademarks take the form of a word(s) (brand name) or an image (logo).


Why are trademarks important for brand protection?

Branding has its origins in the farming practice of marking livestock to distinguish them, especially in a crowded marketplace.

In today’s economy, the marketplace is likewise crowded and branding is essential if you want your products to stand out.

A powerful brand is a vital marketing tool to distinguish your products or services.

Do you prefer

  • Twinings or Lipton tea?
  • Finish or Fairy for washing your dishes?
  • Vodafone or Virgin as your mobile service provider?


Trademarks can be registered or unregistered

If you have not registered your trademark, you may still have built up “unregistered” trademark rights if you’ve used your brand for some time and established a reputation in it.
In some cases, you can rely on unregistered trademark rights to stop a competitor from copying your brand. However, beware! Proving that you have developed a sufficient reputation in your brand can be difficult. If you have a trademark registration, it is much easier to take action against copycats.


A trademark gives you a legal right

A  trademark registration gives you the exclusive legal right to use your brand name or logo. You don’t have to prove that you have built up a reputation before you can take action against someone who has used your brand without permission. Your rights to use that trademark are already secured and you can simply enforce them.


A registered trademark acts as a warning

With a registered trademark, you are entitled to display the registered trademark symbol ® alongside your brand name or logo. This acts as a “beware of the owner” sign and communicates to both competitors and your customers that you consider your brand an asset worth protecting. Read about adding the registered trademark symbol to your branding.


Types of trademarks covered by the trademark definition

Word marks and logos are among the most common types of trademarks that businesses register. However, slogans, jingles, shapes and even colours can be trademarked under certain conditions. Our next article, What is a trademark? looks at the types of trademarks covered by the trademark definition.