For a vast number of companies, large and small, brand integrity is at the absolute heart of their business.
A strong brand can be your most valuable asset, so it’s important to take the necessary steps to protect it.
If you haven’t already, you should look into registering one or more trade marks.
A trade mark is a sign which can distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors.
It may include words, logos, pictures, or a combination of these.
Trade marks can be registered with the IPO in the UK, with the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) in the European Union, and through the World Intellectual Property Organisation for certain countries further afield.
In any case, you should consider instructing solicitors or trade mark agents who can undertake formal clearance searches on your behalf. You should also be sure to register your domain name, and any common variants.
Scope out the competition
Just because you have registered your company, your domain name, and now your trade marks, does not mean that your brand is safe.
It’s up to you to identify potentially infringing activity and to use your legal rights to put a stop to it.
You should conduct regular searches to monitor what’s out there, and whether it might be a threat to your brand.
There are a variety of software-based services that you can pay for that will simultaneously search a number of databases and registries, or alternatively, you can take the time to conduct manual searches yourself, by checking the web, IP registries, domain name registries etc.
You should also search social media channels – and note that each of these will have its own policy for reporting infringing content.
Be on the lookout for anything that is confusingly similar to your brand or domain name, anything that mimics the look and feel of your website, or anything that could mislead the public into mistakenly believing that someone else’s business is in some way affiliated with or connected with your brand.
Enforce your rights
In the event that you discover infringing activity, this would be a good time to get a lawyer involved to talk through your options.
If your claim is strong enough (i.e. you have sufficient evidence of your IP rights, and of the infringing activity) your lawyer might recommend that you issue a cease and desist letter to the infringing party.
You may find that this initial letter opens a dialogue between you and the infringing party, through which you can negotiate a suitable resolution.
Failing this, you may need to escalate matters, eg via a complaint under the appropriate domain name dispute resolution policy (eg UDRP for .com), by filing regulatory complaints and/or instigating and conducting court proceedings.