Intellectual property – guidance

Unacceptable trade marks

Examples of unacceptable trade marks around protected emblems, internet domain names and your company name.

1. Overview

A trade mark is a sign which can distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors (you may refer to your trade mark as your “brand”).

Trade marks are acceptable if they are:

  • distinctive for the goods and services you provide

In other words they can be recognised as signs that differentiates your goods or service as different from someone else’s.

2. Protected emblems and symbols

You cannot register any sign as a trade mark if it consists of or contains an emblem that has protection under an International agreement. One such agreement is Article 6_ter_ of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.

The purpose of Article 6_ter_ is to protect, and prevent the registration and use of, trademarks that are identical with, or very similar to,

  • armorial bearings
  • flags and other State emblems
  • official signs
  • hallmarks
  • other emblems
  • abbreviations and names of international inter-governmental organizations

For more information on Article 6_ter_ visit the World Intellectual Property Organisations (WIPO) web site.

3. Internet domain names

A domain name is a name by which a company or organisation is known on the internet. It usually incorporates the company name, or other identifier.

To register a domain name you must apply to an accredited Registrar.

A list of accredited and accreditation-qualified Registrars can be found on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers web site.

Being the owner of a registered trade mark, does not automatically entitle you to use that mark as a domain name. The main reason being, that the same trade mark can be registered for different goods or services and by different proprietors. Also, someone may have already, and quite legitimately, registered the domain name, perhaps with its use being connected with unregistered goods or services.

The opposite also applies, if your domain name has been properly registered, it does not automatically follow that a similar trade mark will satisfy the requirements for trade mark registration, and/or it may be confusingly similar to someone else’s earlier trade mark.

If you feel that a domain name has been registered unlawfully or maliciously we suggest that you take appropriate legal advice. Alternatively, you can get advice from Nominet UK, who also offer a Dispute Resolution Service.

There are other dispute resolution procedures operated by, for example, the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center.

4. Registering company names

Companies House is responsible for company registration in Great Britain.

Company law is different from trade mark law. You cannot stop someone using a trade mark, which is the same or similar to yours, just by registering your name with Companies House.

We cannot guarantee that the name of a company accepted for registration at Companies House is acceptable by us as a registered trade mark.

The company name may not qualify as a trade mark because, for example:

  • It is not considered distinctive
  • It is a descriptive word or term
  • It may indicate geographical origin
  • It may already be registered in someone else’s name

The following examples of company names would not be accepted as trade marks:

  • Reliable Builders
  • Cheap Car Insurance Company

In the same way, a trade mark, which is a word, might not be accepted for registration at Companies House.

To find out more visit the Companies House web site.

5. Searching our database

You can search our trade marks database free of charge online. You will be able to see if your trade mark is already registered.

You should however note that this service has not been designed as a comprehensive trade mark search facility and should not be used to determine conclusively whether a conflicting trade mark already exists. Our examiners will conduct a thorough search of all existing trade marks when they examine your application.

6. Professional advice

Legal professionals who specialise in Intellectual Property (IP) are useful in helping you to understand, obtain and defend your IP rights. Details of professionals in your area can be obtained from any of the following organisations:

Other sources of advice include:

  • GOV.UK can provide advice on exploiting your ideas
  • NESTA,The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts provide a useful handbook on invention and innovation

There are a number of other organisations geared specifically to helping inventors, especially lone inventors, to bring their ideas to market, and to provide advice on finding financial assistance. For example, The Institute of Patentees and Inventors (IPI) is a non-profit making organisation that specifically helps lone inventors.