No businesses, no matter what size it is, can afford to ignore either the threat or opportunity presented by trademark protection. Don’t believe me? A recent successful trademark application by Specsavers might just open your eyes.
It’s usually assumed that you can’t get trademark protection for a single commonly used word. Carlsberg and ‘probably’ was pretty much the only exception in the UK. Until now.
It will be revealing to see the implications of Specsavers’ successful trademark applications for should’ve and shouldve. The immediate effect would be to prevent anyone else using these words to promote opticians’ services, eyewear or hearing aids.
What could be more significant is if other companies use this precedent to trademark other common English words on the back of successful advertising campaigns.
The Specsavers application was probably targeted at big brand competitors like Boots. But the fact that large brands go to such trouble to protect logos, slogans and now individual words, underlines how commercially valuable they are.
Implications for Smaller Businesses
There will be implications for smaller businesses too – particularly if this really does set a precedent. After all, most regular business owners and officers don’t spend their days scanning the legal press for news of the latest successful trademark applications.
What if an independent optician or audiologist was tempted to run a cheeky local campaign parodying the Specsavers’ adverts? They might assume that the English language is nobody’s intellectual property and that they’re doing no harm. The first they will know about it may be when they get a letter from Specsavers’ lawyers.
Could any reasonable person believe that there is an association between the well-known national brand and a small chain of opticians who used should’ve on some posters or local press advertisements?
Would Specsavers suffer any meaningful damage? I’m certain that they would argue that this is the case. I’m also sure that, having had the application accepted, they will police the situation diligently. If they don’t do this and people use the word without challenge the validity of the mark will be questionable.
Enforcing the right vigorously will drive home the message that they have protectable rights. I guess no small firm of opticians would pay to test these points in court
If other common words are permitted as trademarks it could become easy (and probably quite common) for businesses to infringe trademark rights without realising.
Trademarks matter – even if you’re a small business
Smaller businesses (even quite substantial ones) often assume that trademarks are for the larger well-known brands. This can be a significant and expensive mistake. Within your own market your logo, identity and any distinctive wording you commonly use in your marketing have a significant commercial value.
Not convinced? Imagine if a direct competitor started using a logo similar to yours along with your strapline. This would have an emotional as well as a commercial impact. But could you stop them? Without trademark protection it could be a difficult and drawn out process and may not even be possible.
Would your business be more secure with trademark protection? We are happy to advise on where you could and should get protection for important branding and marketing assets. Call us on 01278 453333