An Introduction to Trademark Law in the UK
This article will outline the basic law surrounding trademarks in the UK. Trademarks are protected in the UK under the Trade Marks Act 1994, implementing an EC Directive into UK law. Trademarks differ from other intellectual property rights such as copyright and patents.
The Trade Marks Act 1994 provides that a trade mark is any sign which can distinguish the goods and services of one trader from those of another. Trade Marks can be words, logos, pictures, or a combination of these and are used so that the product or service that a particular trader provides can be recognized by customers and cannot be copied or imitated by others.
Trade marks must be registered within one or a number of 45 categories, the firsts 1-34 classes cover goods and classes 35 to 45 cover services. Usually a trademark is registered under a number of services, e.g. Arsenal Football Club might have registrations for sportswear (Class 25, Clothing), stationery (class 16), amongst others. The UK Intellectual Property Office handles all trademark registrations in the UK and usually takes just under a year to process depending on any objections or if anybody disputes the application.
The Trade Marks Act 1996 provides that a new trademark must have acquired distinctiveness. This means that is must be sufficiently different from other trademarks that it is instantly recognizable to be distinct from other trademarks, i.e. no two trademarks can be so similar that it leads to confusion.
There are certain things that cannot be registered, for example, flags and royal emblems and the 'Olympic rings'. Moreover, marks that that try to deceive the product's origin will be excluded as will any rude, obscene, offensive marks that will also not qualify for trademark protection.
A registered trademark will protect the owner from passing off, other people will not be allowed to make duplicate goods and pass them off as your registered trademarked good or service. Often goods are made at a much lower quality and cheaper material with an identical look as the original.
The protection of trademarks is a criminal offense in the UK and can result in imprisonment, a fine or both. Custom Officers in the UK try to stop fake goods entering the country and the police will deal with trademark infringement that occurs within the UK. Sometimes fake goods are made in the UK for sale in the UK and in most cases they are imported from overseas.
Trademarks must be registered, and once registered the trademark owner is afforded a number of rights to protect their trademark against illegal copying. The distinct trademark should provide the purchaser of a particular good or service with a clear understanding as to the brand and therefore quality of product. Fake goods that are sold are often of a lower quality than the original. Some people purchase these items because they are cheaper than the original and some are passed off as the original where the purchaser is completely unaware that they have purchased a fake item.