Branding and brand protection are two areas that appear to cause confusion for business owners. We are often asked, “How do I copyright my business name? I want to stop others from using it…”
Generally, a valid question, but not quite along the right lines. This blog therefore intends to address two important businesses issues. Firstly, what is a brand and why it is important to businesses. Secondly, to draw a distinction between two types of intellectual property rights – trade marks and copyright.
Note: In the UK, ‘trade mark’ is written as two words, whereas in the US it’s written ‘trademark’.
We hope that by the time you have finished reading this post, you’ll come across sounding like a branding expert, and will be in a position to ask the right questions when it comes to protecting different aspects of your brand.
What is a brand?
A brand can have many different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Essentially, businesses should consider a brand as a type of promise. It is your promise to your customers that your business will deliver particular outcomes. Think Nike for quality trainers, Apple for high-end electronics devices, and Google for a comprehensive search engine. We recognise all of these brands and many more for delivering particular outcomes.
A brand does not just stop at the name of a business, but also includes other elements which provide that business its competitive edge, and distinguish it from its competitors. This may be a logo, a jingle, a slogan, or even a distinctive colour or shape.
Why not take a look at the Interbrand 2016 rankings, which lists the most valuable brands and what we associated them with. Interestingly, the car manufacturer Tesla has now made the list in 100th place. So, even new brands can quickly become associated for delivering a particular promise. In Tesla’s instance, producing quality electric cars (amongst other new and innovative solutions).
Why is a brand important?
Your brand is one of your greatest business assets. It creates business value by supporting your marketing efforts, by making your products or services identifiable by your customers, and ultimately help to increase your sales. It provides potential customers an insight into what you do and is often their first impression of your business. This is why it is so important that you have a brand which is memorable and striking, and one that represents the message you want to put across to your consumers.
Businesses should therefore use their brand to create credibility and trust in their products or services. This leads us on to another important aspect of branding. Part of your early business strategy should involve how you will design your brand architecture.
A branded house or house of brands?
Most fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) use the house of brands strategy. This is where the business name is not necessarily associated with the products sold, but instead, each product has its own distinct branding. Perhaps a unique product name, distinctive colour and special packaging. Take Procter & Gamble for example, many consumers would not necessarily associate the company with owning Duracell, Oral-B, and Gillette (to name just a few).
Alternatively, a branded house is a business that sells all its goods and services under a single brand.
It’s never too late to change your brand architecture. Google recently altered its strategy from a branded house to a house of brands. This was through the formation of Alphabet, its new holding entity, giving the company the freedom to create a number of distinct brands, each with their own unique promise, without diluting what Google is best known for.
Trade marks vs. Copyright
As you come to understand why branding is so important, and how to create your own brand strategy and architecture, you can then move forwards with protecting your brand, or more accurately, the individual elements which form your brand.
The primary reason for protecting your brand is to prevent others from copying you, or riding off the success of your brand promise.
It is this idea of being ‘copied’ that causes confusion for business owners, and why they tend to default towards seeking to protect a brand through copyright. In most of the examples provided above, the relevant protection which should be sought is a trade mark (or combination of trade marks) to protect each individual brand element. If you keep the following key features in mind, it should hopefully become clearer why trade marks mainly apply to brand protection.
Key features of a trade mark:
A trade mark is a sign, expression, or design identifying products or services.
If it is distinctive (and not only descriptive), it differentiates your products or services from those of others.
It protects, for example, slogans, names, or symbols.
It provides the owner with an exclusive right to use the mark they have sought to protect.
The owner can bring a claim against anyone who uses that mark without their consent.
A trade mark expires if it is not renewed every ten years.
Key features of copyright:
Copyright applies, for instance, to poems, paintings, or computer software (although eligibility can vary in difference countries).
It is a right granting the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution.
It does not prohibit all copying, but is only restrictive as far as the use of the copy is not fair.
Registration is not necessary for its enforcement.
The right expires after a certain period of time depending on the type of work (commonly 50 or 70 years).
Protecting your brand
So, in most instances, you would seek to protect your business or product name, slogan or even unique brand shape or colour with a trade mark. It is for this reason we will be providing a guide on everything you need to consider before, during and after obtaining protection of your brand, and how to go about it.
Until then, why not start planning your brand strategy? Think about what you want your brand to represent, the promises you want it to reflect, the people you want to influence, the architecture it will take, and how you will protect each element to maximise your assets and profit from your business promise.
marketpreneurs can help you make the most of your business assets. From brand design to brand protection, we can support every aspect of your branding strategy. Arrange a call with a member of the marketpreneurs team to discuss your branding requirements.