Brands, often referred to as trade marks, are those signs which identify one company’s products and services from those of their competitors. They can consist of words, logos, slogans, colours, noises, gestures, smells or a combination of these things. Brands can be a company’s biggest asset; in 2018 Interbrand valued Apple’s brand at over US$214,480 million while Coca Cola was valued at nearly US$66,341 million with Colgate coming is at US$8,659 million. Just like more tangible properties, brands can be sold, licensed and mortgaged and care should be taken to secure them.

All too often stories hit the headlines of companies adopting a new brand, spending thousands of pounds on packaging, publicity materials and marketing, only to have to re-brand when challenged by the owner of an existing right which they are infringing.

This was a lesson learned by the owner of a restaurant in Belfast. The Venetian hotel which owned a European Union Trade Mark Registration for the mark CIPRIANI, brought infringement action against use of a similar mark by the restaurant. The end result was a change of name for the restaurant along with an order for the destruction of all menus, advertisements, and other materials bearing the trade mark and the transfer of the domain name.

Another Northern Ireland company adopted the trade mark JOHN APPLESEED in respect of a range of fruit juices only to have AB InBev, the owner of trade mark registrations for the marks

J APPLESEED and JOHNNY APPLESEED, oppose their trade mark application and request that they change their trade mark to prevent any potential confusion.

Last year the Belfast Telegraph reported on Coca Cola enforcing their rights in the trade mark INNOCENT, which they used in respect of smoothies and juices, against use by a Northern Ireland teenager of the mark GINNOCENT in respect of a gin product.

As the old saying goes ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ and the cost involved in checking for third party rights could potentially save thousands of pounds, as well as avoiding loss of face and goodwill with customers.

Adopting a trade mark is not something that should be done with little or no thought and failure to invest in checking that a brand is clear for use and securing it through trade mark registration is a mistake which could prove to be very costly.

If you require any advice or assistance regarding trade mark protection, or other intellectual property, please contact or for further information.