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'Brand' new approach to trademarks could spell trouble

Date 4 Oct 2007
Author The Editor

Companies are being warned to take a more active approach to protecting their trademarks or risk their key brands being devalued. Intellectual property experts at law firm Ward Hadaway warn that businesses which don't keep a close eye on their brands and other trademark applications could end up facing copycat labels or costly legal actions. The caution comes after changes in the way the trademark registration process is carried out.

Previously, companies or individuals who tried to trademark a brand, slogan or logo which was similar or identical to an existing trademark would automatically have been turned down by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

However, from October 1, the IPO will no longer reject such applications out of hand. Instead, they will just warn the trademark applicant of any similarity, leaving that company or individual to decide whether to proceed with the registration process. If the applicant decides to carry on, the IPO will inform the existing trademark holder of the planned application, leaving them to decide whether and how to fight the move.

Bill Goodwin, assistant solicitor in the Intellectual Property team at Ward Hadaway, said: "This is a fundamental change to the way the trademark system operates in the UK and means that companies with valuable brands need to take a lot more care when it comes to protecting them. "Whilst the changes may free up the process of trade mark registration for companies looking to protect new brands, it does pose a greater threat to businesses who already have trade marks and don't take active steps to preserve them.

"It may be prudent for companies who set great store by their brands to start setting up watching services to ensure they get an early warning of new trademark applications in the UK and in other countries. "They should also act quickly and seek expert advice if they want to oppose any applications."

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