My new business, an online children’s party shop, is called The Party Pirate. Nobody else can use the name in any other party-related business because it’s trademarked to me. But it wasn’t always like that.
When I started researching my business I came up with a name that I absolutely loved. It said everything I wanted it to say about my business in a subtle yet appropriate way. I checked that it wasn’t already trademarked or being used as a limited company and it wasn’t. The only other business using the name was a child minder living miles away in the north of England. She had registered the .co.uk domain, but I was able to buy .com which was what I had wanted anyway. As far as I was concerned, our businesses were poles apart and there was nothing more to think about.
I had always planned to trademark my name at some point if and when I had the spare cash but I was in no rush. I created Facebook and Twitter pages for my new business and put months of hard work into building up my followers.
My logo was designed around my business name and the website build was well underway, with a live holding page. Then out of the blue, I received a letter from a solicitor which made me knees go week. They were acting on behalf of the child minder up north who had decided to add party cakes and party crafts to her child minding business and to trademark the name.
The letter was aggressive and bullying and they threatened to take legal action against me if I did not cease using the domain name and trademark, remove all signs of the name from my holding page, destroy all stationery, documents and any other forms of marketing with the name, and transfer ownership and control of the domain name to the trademark holder. This was all to be done by 4pm in four days time and I was to sign a declaration and return it.
I immediately phoned a local solicitor who very kindly gave me free advice over the phone. As it turned out the trademark was still in the process of being applied for but it was likely to go through and she advised me to change my business name.
I felt protective over my business and I was angry. It was my baby and I had nurtured it from a seed of an idea to the beginnings of what I hoped would be a successful and thriving business. I could have contested the trademark but it just wasn’t worth it. I didn’t have the money and I just wanted to concentrate on getting my business off the ground.
I took down the holding page, but the solicitor advised me not to hand over the domain name and not to sign the declaration. She warned me that they may threaten to sue but that once the holding page, Facebook, and Twitter pages were removed they would have no evidence to stand up in court. I gritted my teeth and took her advice. I never heard from them again.
I needed a new name and fast. By the end of that day, the new logo for The Party Pirate was already being designed and the website was underway once again. But I wasn’t taking any risks this time and I was going to trademark my new name. The solicitor had told me that they could do the whole process for £500, but I simply didn’t have the money and a friend told me that I could do it myself for less. In fact, it could not have been easier.
When you do a Google search for trademarks, there are many companies offering their services to help you through the process but it really isn’t necessary. The government’s website, The Intellectual Property Office, guides you through the whole process, including a step-by-step guide, an online form, and information on what happens next.
Your business does not have to be a limited company registered with Companies House to get a trademark – I’m a sole trader – but neither does it guarantee a trademark. The first step is to choose which ‘classes’ you want your trademark to cover. Mine included ‘party gifts’, ‘fancy dress’ and ‘party cakes’.
An initial search and examination is then carried out to verify whether your name can be trademarked, after which, if accepted, it is published in the Trade Marks Journal for two months during which time anyone can see it and oppose it (this is unlikely unless you have a direct competitor who also wants to use your name).
They got back to me very quickly after the initial examination and there was always somebody human at the end of the phone if I had any questions. The whole process took nearly three months and cost me £350.
Unfortunately for me, the costs didn’t stop there. With the new logo and website changes, the whole incident cost me nearly £1000. But it also cost me in time, building up all my Facebook followers from scratch. And to top it all, the child minder still hasn’t added party cakes and party crafts to her website yet!
So if your business name and brand are important to you, PROTECT it now and register it as a trademark. It will be money well spent!