Last edited 05 Mar 2021

Trade mark

Trade marks can be traced back over 400 years to the reign of James 1. A trade mark is a type of intellectual property protection and can be a brand or product name, logo, word, illustration or slogan. It is usually used on, or in association with, goods and services to indicate that they are manufactured, selected, certified or offered for sale by the proprietor of the trade mark. Customers can see the origin of the trade-marked goods and may come to trust the owner of the trademark.

A trade mark allows its owner to distinguish themselves from competitors or others and, once registered, cannot be imitated. In the UK, trade marks are protected by law.

In order to protect a brand or logo etc, trade marks must be registered with the UK Intellectual Property Office at

Registration allows the holders to:

  • Sell and license their brand.
  • Put the ® symbol next to their brand to show it is theirs and warn others against using it.
  • Take legal action against those who use the trademark without permission (including counterfeiters).

Trade marks are usually valid for a period of 10 years, after which they must be renewed to avoid expiry.

A trade mark must be unique and can include:

However, in the UK, a trade mark cannot:

  • Be offensive, for example contain swear words or pornographic images.
  • Describe the goods or services it will relate to, for example the word ‘cotton’ cannot be a trade mark for a cotton textile company.
  • Be misleading, for example use the word ‘organic’ for goods that are not organic.
  • Be a three-dimensional shape associated with the trade mark, for example use the shape of an egg for eggs.
  • Be too common and non-distinctive, for example be a simple statement like ‘we lead the way’.
  • Look too similar to state symbols like flags or hallmarks, based on World Intellectual Property Organization guidelines.

To register a trade mark, the first step is to find out whether it is already registered by someone else by searching the trade-mark database.

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