A beginner’s guide to trademark infringement

The infringement of a trade mark – also written and acknowledged as trademark or trade-mark – relates to the unauthorised use of a registered trade mark by any third party on any goods or services identical with the goods or services specified on the register.

There are two abbreviations used by UK businesses to demonstrate their trade mark rights:

  • The term ‘RTM’ is how intellectual property professionals refer to registered trade marks. Trade mark rights holders in the UK use the ® symbol to indicate a trade mark is registered.
  • The abbreviation ‘TM’ is used in the UK to indicate that a company/business is using something – be it a word, symbol or combination of the two – as a trade mark but it is currently unregistered.

The Intellectual Property Office also lists examples of unacceptable trade marks around protected emblems, internet domains and company names here.

The infringement of trade marks and copyrights can be criminal offences and also actionable in civil law.

Potential UK trade mark infringements

The following trade mark violations are cited in the Trade Marks Act 1994:

  • Section 10(1) Trade Marks Act
    An unauthorised third party utilises a mark that is identical to a registered trademark and placed on like-for-like goods and services. It must be reproduced without modification – even minor modifications unnoticeable from the average consumer’s perspective will be considered identical for the purposes of trade mark infringement.

  • Section 10(2)(a) & (b) Trade Marks Act
    Where an unauthorised third party places an identical registered trade mark on similar goods and services or a similar trade mark on identical goods and services, thereby creating confusion as to the origin of the goods or services and the possibility of an association between the two trade marks.

  • Section 10(3) Trade Marks Act
    Where an unauthorised third party uses an identical or similar trade mark on goods or services which are not similar, benefitting from the registered trade mark’s existing UK or EU reputation and gaining an unfair advantage; and operating to the detriment of the registered trade mark’s character.

Additionally, a trade mark which benefits from an existing reputation is also infringed if a sign is used in the ‘course of trade’. This occurs when a trademarked sign is used in relation to goods or services identical to or similar to the trade mark to obtain an unfair advantage to the detriment of the registered trade mark.

If you’re unsure whether trademarking is an available and suitable form of protection for your business idea, why not attend our workshop on Trade Mark Searching? The session is geared towards fledgling entrepreneurs and inventors with exciting ideas or products, teaching you how to use web databases and giving you a chance to ask questions of our experts.

Dealing with a trademark violation

If you believe your UK trademark registration has been infringed, seek advice from a trademark attorney. They can take action to halt the violation of your trade mark or negotiate to license your trade mark on your behalf.

B2B trade mark disputes are usually handled under civil law. However, Trading Standards Officers supported by the police can help you take criminal action with regards to intellectual property crime.

Prior to any potential legal proceedings, the Registrar of the Intellectual Property Office can impose a cooling-off period to give both sides an opportunity to settle the infringement without the need for full legal procedures.

Is there infringement protection for unregistered trademarks?

According to the Intellectual Property Office no available remedy exists for trade mark infringement if the earlier trade mark is unregistered.

It does however state that some unregistered trademarks may be protected under Common Law and this protection is known as ‘Passing off’.

The Intellectual Property Office states that passing off an unregistered trademark can depend on the following circumstances:

  • Whether, and to what extent, the owner of the unregistered trade mark was trading under the name at the time the later trade mark was in use.
  • Whether the two trademarks are sufficiently similar, with regard to their fields of trade.
  • The extent of the damage that such confusion would cause to the goodwill in the business of the initial unregistered trade mark user.

How can I find out if a similar trademark exists?

It’s possible to find out if a similar trade mark to your registered or proposed trade mark already exists and discover who owns a specific National UK trademark, a Community trademark, an International Registration designating the EU and an International Registration designating the UK.

UK trade mark searching can be carried out via the IPO website, where you can search by trade mark number, owner name and by keyword, phrase or image. The Intellectual Property Office has an online journal which enables users to search trade mark applications that have been accepted in the last seven days.

If you’re unsure whether trademarking is an available and suitable form of protection for your business idea, come along to our 'How do I search Trade Marks?' workshop. The session is geared towards fledgling entrepreneurs and inventors with exciting ideas or products, teaching you how to use web databases available and giving you a chance to ask questions of our experts.


See also

Protecting your ideas

Plan to grow your business

Plan to start your business