How to register your trade mark: Three simple steps for solopreneurs

- April 5, 2024 5 MIN READ

It’s understandable why so many solopreneurs don’t register their trade marks; it can often seem like a complicated and costly process. Jacqui Pryor, founder of MMW Trademark Services, sheds light on this trend and explains why solopreneurs should actually pay attention to their intellectual property.

Some business owners have their hands full with everything that comes with starting up or running their own show and for them, trade mark registration is not a pressing priority.  Others don’t believe that trade mark registration is even necessary for their niche market.  Trade mark registration is often consigned to the ‘too hard’ basket, while many small business owners simply haven’t given it a thought.

Truth is, solopreneurs really do need to think about trade mark registration – and they need to act.

This article explains why trade mark registration is so important for small businesses and it provides practical info on the process.  You may be surprised at just how simple (and affordable) it can be to acquire legal protection for one of your most valuable assets.

Why trade mark registration is relevant for small businesses

Translating a bright idea into a commercial reality takes a Herculean effort and often requires significant financial commitment.  You’ve fought had to develop your brand – be it a brand you use for a product or a service – and your unique offering is what sets you apart from others in your market.  Why risk losing it all?

Regardless of your industry, the only way you can really protect your investment is by registering your brand as a trade mark.

A trade mark can be a logo, brand name, slogan, distinctive wording or packaging – basically anything that differentiates your goods or services from those of another trader – and registration is just as important (perhaps more so) for  solopreneurs and small enterprises as it is for big business.

A registered trade mark can:

  • Ensure you have the right to use your brand name for your products/services; that you aren’t infringing on another trade mark owner’s rights
  • Prevent other traders from using the same or similar brand in your market category
  • Be a deterrent to copycats and competitors
  • Increase the value of your start-up and be an important asset on your balance sheet
  • Be traded, assigned or licensed
  • Can enhance your reputation as a trustworthy business
  • Can be a drawcard for investors

 3 easy steps for solopreneurs towards trade mark registration

Trade mark registration is handled by IP Australia, which is the governing body for all trade marks, patents and other intellectual property.

Registering a trade mark is a multi-step process.

The starting point should always be a comprehensive search to make sure your name, logo or other sign is unique and that you won’t be treading on anyone else’s toes.  If your brand is already established, a search will uncover clashes with any existing trade mark and may still give you the opportunity to prevent the existing owner from taking legal action against you.

Step one: the search process

It’s always best to do your trade mark search before going headlong into building your brand.

Running a one-person business is demanding enough without discovering an unintentional identity clash down the line.  A rebrand can be a costly and emotionally draining process, so a search really should be your first step.

You can do your own search to look up registered and pending trade marks using the Australian Trade Mark Search database.  This is a free online service and you can search in various ways such as by word, phrase, image, owner, trade mark numbers and goods and services.

You can either do a quick general search or a more detailed investigation using complex search queries.  Many people DIY their searches, but it can be a good idea to get help from a professional who is experienced in trade mark searches, particularly if you are uncertain about the scope of the search or are looking to expand your business internationally.

Mark My Words Trademark Services offers a free trade mark search if you are unsure about the results of your “DIY” approach.

Step 2:  Select the class/classes of goods and services associated with your trade mark

Selecting your trade mark classes is essential because it helps determine the scope of your trade mark protection.  In other words, you need to choose how you will use your trade mark in relation to goods or services.

IP Australia offers a ‘pick list’ to help people reduce the likelihood of making a mistake and to make it cheaper (discounts apply when you use this pick list).  It’s also a good idea to select goods and services that aren’t too specific within your nominated, so that you have some wriggle room if you decide to expand in the future.

Ultimately, your rights in a trade mark will relate back to the goods/services you have nominated at the time of filing the application. If you miss a class, or don’t nominate all the necessary goods/services you may end up with a narrower protection than hoped.

Step 3: File your application with IP Australia

Once you’re confident that your desired mark is unique and you have decided on the classes of goods and services for your application, the next step is to file for trade mark registration with IP Australia.  This can be done online or by mail.

IP Australia offers an electronic Head Start Fast Track application which essentially provides an early assessment of whether or not your trade mark is eligible for registration.  This initial step can eliminate a lot of uncertainty and avoid unnecessary costs.

What documents do I need for a trade mark application?

For a solopreneur, the application process should be straightforward and simple if the proposed trade mark is available and distinctive.  That said, any mistakes made on your application can be time-consuming and costly to sort out and in some instances, errors can actually be impossible to rectify.  It’s really in your best interests to get things right the first time and it can be advantageous to get assistance from a trade marks expert.

Another thing to remember is that all documentation has to be in English.

You’ll need the following for your application:

  • Full details including the name, address and contact information of the applicant. The applicant must have a legal personality, such as an individual or company. This information will be recorded on the public database.
  • A clear image or representation of your intended trade mark
  • The list of goods and services associated with that mark

Once you’ve submitted your application, it takes around four months for IP Australia to examine it and advise you of the outcome (e.g., whether the trade mark is accepted for registration or not) when filing a standard application. However, if you file through the Head Start system, you will have an initial indication sooner, within about five business days. If they identify any areas of concern, they’ll send you an examination report outlining the issues and give you a deadline for your response.

Whether you file a Head Start application or a standard application, the total process takes a minimum seven and a half months from filing through to registration.

A last word on trade mark registration for solopreneurs

You’ve put your heart and soul into your start-up.  You may even have emptied your savings and hocked your home to get your business off the ground.   So why risk more than you have to?

I encourage all small business owners to seek professional guidance on how they can protect their valuable intellectual property.

The process to register a trade mark is surprisingly easy and affordable and the end result may just be your most valuable marketing tool.  Obtaining legal brand protection is a must for any solopreneur, not only for peace-of-mind but to add value to your investment and bolster your balance sheet.

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