The Truth About Trademarks for Small Businesses

Naming things is tricky. A name can convey so much. It can be (or feel like) a very permanent decision. I don’t know how parents deal with the responsibility of naming a human! So when you find the perfect name – in this case, for your small business – you want to start stamping it everywhere. You grab the domain and the social media handles. You might even think about applying for a trademark.

Big companies use trademarks. I’ve also noticed it to be a very common practice in the USA small business community. But what does registering a trademark mean for UK small businesses? Let me tell you a bit about trademarks, my own experience registering a trademark, and whether I feel it was worth it!

What is a trademark?

On a basic level, a trademark is something like a name, logo, symbol or design that belongs to a particular business. When you register a trademark with a governing body, you are basically staking your claim to the mark. This means that only you and your business have control of the mark, and others cannot use it without your permission.

On the surface, this sounds fantastic. However, it’s much more complex than that. A particular registered trademark is only valid in specific circumstances. Typically, you can only register the trademark for the industry your business falls into. So “Pretty Content” might be trademarked in the web design industry, but the trademark would not cover the claim to the name if, say, “Pretty Content” the bakery popped up and decided to use it.

You also need to register in each market you serve. And each registration comes at a separate cost. For those of us in the UK, this likely means wanting to register a trademark in both the UK and the EU. And possibly in the USA. At around £170 for a single trademark in one “class” (a.k.a. an industry that your business operates in), this can get expensive! Plus, trademarks need to be renewed every 10 years.

My experience getting a trademark for my small business

Last year, I came across someone using the name Pretty Content in a similar industry to mine. And, honestly, I panicked. I immediately started to register for a trademark, before getting caught up in all of the above.

In the end, I paid nearly £200 to register Pretty Content (or should I say Pretty Content®), in the UK, in the very specific category of “Design and construction of homepages and websites.”

If you’re familiar with my small business, Pretty Content does more than just homepages and websites! But each additional industry costs £70, and I certainly wasn’t ready to pay for them all.

Essentially, in my panic, I paid for a useless trademark. Yes, I could use it to make my business look a little more legit, but if it came to a trademark dispute, it probably wouldn’t amount to much use.

That said, since this experience I’ve realised that while your small business name is important, it isn’t the most important thing when it comes to your brand! At the end of the day, there could be 100 other Pretty Contents, but only this Pretty Content provides beautiful branding and web design services for small creative businesses to the standard and style that I, Aisling Brock, can and do.

Is registering a trademark for your small business worth it?

I’m not a trademark lawyer and I don’t know the needs of your specific small business, but my guess would be that you would encounter similar issues to mine if you decided to apply for a trademark. For me, it doesn’t seem worth it, but it might be for you. If you are thinking of registering a trademark for your business, I’d suggest the following:

  • Speak to someone who deals with trademarks. But, be careful. Some services will try to overcharge you. Find out how much registering a trademark in the UK costs and make sure whomever you’re dealing with isn’t charging way more than that.
  • Research to hone in on the industries and markets that you work in. This will hopefully keep you from registering trademarks in locations or industries where it’s not really necessary for your business.
  • Be prepared to invest. Each additional industry you need to apply for (and they make them very specific) will cost at least £70 on top of the main fee.

Hi, I'm Aisling!

I’ve spent over a decade working in agencies and startups, designing for different mediums; coding responsive, user-friendly web experiences; and converting customers into loyal audiences. Now, I am so excited to bring those years of experience to your project, and to share some of my insights on this blog!

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