Trade Marks: from Brexit to big brands

Trade Marks: from Brexit to big brands

Tom Farrand describes what drew him back to Marks & Clerk to lead its Trade Mark division, and looks at what makes them important in 2018.

Looking after the intellectual property needs of some of the most valuable brands in the UK is just one part of the job for Marks & Clerk’s new Head of Trade Marks.

The opportunity to work with household names was simply too good to ignore for Tom Farrand when he was invited to join the leading IP service provider.

“Having only recently taken up the post, I am still finding my way,” he admitted, “but I am full of confidence and energy for the challenge ahead. Marks & Clerk is the largest and best-known IP business in the UK and I believe we’re unmatched in the marketplace.

“So it’s an obvious place for people to want to be – and I was no different.”

Tom believes that there is also a significant opportunity for the firm in providing trusted advice to those left in the wake of Britain’s seismic decision to leave the EU.

“Brexit is of course a worry, and businesses will increasingly seek sound advice on practical solutions as they try to negotiate the difficult transition period. The European trade mark system has been harmonised for some time now, including a highly successful and popular unitary trade mark registration system in the shape of the EUTM.

“However, as at the date of Brexit, the UK will fall outside of this system. It’s now been confirmed that there will be a different system in place with great uncertainty over when and what may happen to trade mark rights if there is no deal and a so-called ‘cliff edge’ exit from the EU.

“It’s already pretty clear that businesses with EU trade marks should think about securing a separate UK registration as well as retaining their existing EU registration. However, despite this clarification, the process is still set to be a very complex one, with multiple related laws and rights similarly impacted.

“We are a European business with offices in other EU member states, and we will continue to represent our clients before the EU Intellectual Property Office. Our aim is to ensure that it is a seamless transition for them.”

Where entrepreneurs and investors are concerned, Tom believes that a key issue going forward will be the relative value of intangible assets – assets of a business that are hard to evaluate.

Regular studies show that the absolute and relative value of intangible assets in corporations across the globe continues to grow.

Tom explained: “With every business, the owners and managers need to increasingly think about how they can properly secure the value in those intangibles. Intellectual Property Rights, including registration of trademarks, provide a framework for that, helping entrepreneurs and business owners secure, exploit and enforce their rights.

“It works in both directions – in different jurisdictions there can be real pitfalls if you don’t secure your IP properly, such as getting sued by potential competitors. In China, for example, the boundaries of good faith can be extremely different and you can quite easily see your branding stolen wholesale.”

The new Head of Trade Marks also believes that young businesses need to start thinking about securing their IP early on in order to gain maximum long-term advantage.

“The short-term focus for start-ups might be quite narrow initially, but it really is essential to plan for long-term success early on, and a big part of that is spending your money wisely by linking growth strategy with IP.

“When you’re starting out in business, you need to put yourself in the position of a potential investor. They will want to know if the business that they are considering investing in has got an effective way of protecting its IP. Has the business got that bit nailed down? There needs to be substance.

“You don’t have to have everything in place on day one, but it’s important to have a roadmap – to start with the end in mind. It can seem daunting, but splitting the cost of IP into instalments is a way to cover those key bases without breaking the bank.”

Has the march of digital technology made trade marking more complex? Tom has no doubts.

“Adapting legal frameworks to meet the needs of an increasingly digital economy is a significant challenge. The law doesn’t always keep up.

“In this rapidly evolving environment, you need to protect your brands properly by monitoring online uses and misuses.

“In a world in which it is often easier for others to simply copy than create and innovate, IP protection is an essential tool in the battle to stay ahead of the copiers, while rewarding the creators and innovators.

“For those willing to invest in themselves and protect their brand, this increasingly digital and technologically-focused economy should be considered a world of opportunity and not a minefield.”