Trademark vs. Patent

Remay Villaester (May)

When it comes to products in particular, which is the right IP protection route to choose - a trademark or a patent?

In this handy guide, we’ll cover all the basics you need to know about trademark vs. patent. This includes a rundown of what each is, what it protects and how to apply.

We’ll even throw in a handy tip for registering trademarks and patents overseas - where you can use a free Wise account to save money on registration fees in multiple currencies.

But more on this later. Let’s start with what intellectual property actually is.

What is intellectual property?

Before you can choose between trademarks and patents, it’s important to understand what the term intellectual property (IP) actually means.

IP is a general term covering all kinds of different types of legal rights. It is designed to protect businesses, artists and creators, although anyone can make use of it. With intellectual property protection, you can restrict a person or company from using or reproducing your work without permission.

Intellectual property rights can be used for virtually any unique creative work, such as:

  • Logos and branding
  • Products and services
  • Works of art
  • Photos and videos
  • Writing - including short stories, books and articles
  • Commercial signs and slogans
  • Computer programs
  • Characters in literary works.

There are even specific IP protections for online creative work. Laws such as the The Copyright Designs and Patents Act (1988) control how digital media is controlled, used and shared.

The key is to choose the right type of IP protection for your work. This is where trademarks and patents come in.

Why is it important?

If you’ve started a new business, are rebranding or perhaps have a new product ready to launch, it’s a smart idea to look into protections for your key business assets. You can do this through intellectual property (IP) protections such as trademarks and patents.

This is really important, as choosing the right form of protection can stop someone else from using or stealing your brand, idea or even your product. It safeguards your brand reputation and makes it easier for you to pursue legal action if your IP is used without permission.

What is a trademark?

A registered trademark is a type of intellectual property protection specifically for elements of branding. It distinguishes a logo, slogan or brand name as being the exclusive property of one company.

Trademark protection lasts 10 years¹, after which time it’ll need to be renewed.

What counts as a valid trademark

You can trademark all sorts of things if they specifically relate to your company’s brand. For example, your packaging, the shape of your products, distinctive colour palettes and even sounds or noises.

Only certain things can be trademarked, and you’ll need to first check that no one else has already registered the trademark you want to use.

How to register a trademark

To register a trademark for your brand, you’ll need to complete an application with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO). This involves an initial fee of around £270² and a reasonably long process, around four months¹ from start to finish.

But once you’ve successfully registered your trademark, you’ll be able to display the official ® symbol next to your branding. This gives you legal protection in the UK if anyone tries to steal or misuse your brand, or infringes on your trademark.

What is a patent?

While trademarks are for branding, patents are for products. Or more specifically, for unique inventions.

If your company develops something new, it can apply to the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to protect the invention with a patent. This is the exclusive right to make, use or sell the invention, which can make it a commercially valuable step to take.

Once your patent is granted, you can take legal action against anyone who infringes on it. Patents can last for as long as 20 years in the UK³.

What you can and can’t patent⁴

Patents aren’t just for products. You can also patent a manufacturing process or innovative technological solution to a particular problem.

It’s important that the invention is new and unique, not just a modification to something that already exists. Plus, the details for how to put the invention into effect can’t already be publicly available.

However, you can’t get a patent for the following (among others):

  • Methods of presenting information
  • Medical treatments or diagnoses
  • Ways of doing business or playing a game
  • Literary, artistic, musical or dramatic works.

How to apply for a patent

Unfortunately, it can be very complicated, expensive and time-consuming to get a patent approved in the UK.

You’ll need lots of supporting documents, which often means highly technical documents and plans. The invention needs to be explained in detail and your application will need to meet lots of quite strict conditions.

There are fees to pay to apply for a patent, including an initial fee of £4,000⁵. Plus, you’ll need the services of a specialist patent attorney or expert advisor, to give you the best chance of your patent being granted.

It usually takes around five years⁵ to successfully apply for a patent.

Registering a trademark or patent overseas? Save money on registration fees with Wise

Everything we’ve covered so far relates to trademark and patent protection in the UK, but this unfortunately doesn’t extend to the rest of the world.

If you want to protect your company’s intellectual property rights overseas, you’ll need to register international trademarks and patents. This is likely to involve registration fees in lots of different currencies, which could cost you a bundle in transfer fees and poor exchange rates if you go through your bank.

Luckily, there’s a better and cheaper alternative. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can send money worldwide for tiny, transparent fees and at the mid-market exchange rate - with no expensive mark-up added on top. It’s simple, secure and convenient to use for your international transaction whether it’s a payment to your supplier or from a client overseas.

Start saving today with Wise

So, to sum up the trademarks vs. patents debate in a nutshell - trademarks are for branding, patents are for products.

Most businesses will want to consider trademarks to protect their branding, but the more costly and complex route of patent protection is only for companies with a new, unique invention.

If unsure which route to take, it could be a good idea to get advice from an expert. Good luck!

Sources used for this article:

  1. - registering a trademark
  2. - trademark application
  3. - patent practice
  4. - patenting
  5. - patent application

Sources checked on 26th April 2021

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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