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You can’t patent a name

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Business, Copyright, Design, Patents, Trade marks

It’s quite disappointing when reading an article in the press that I see “Mr X has applied to patent his name” or “last year 3000 inventions were copyrighted in the UK”. Having a basic knowledge of intellectual property and the terminology really isn’t that complex.

Patents protect inventions, they prevent others from making, using, importing or selling an invention without the permission of the owner. A patentable invention can be a product or a process that gives a new technical solution to a problem.

It’s pronounced ‘pa-tent’ , not ‘paytent’ as some people like to say. They have nothing to do with highly polished shoes.


A trade mark is a sign which can distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors (you may refer to your trade mark as your “brand”). Trade marks are acceptable if they are distinctive for the goods and services you provide. A trade mark can include words, sounds, logos, colours or a combination of any of these.
Please also note that trade mark is two words.

Designs and Copyright

Designs protect the novel appearance of an article. They are directed at features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation applied to the article. They do not protect the function of the product, only what it looks like.

Last but not least we have copyright. Copyright protects all things artistic and creative, from films and photos to music and software, copyright allows the owner to control the use of their works.

So there we have in a nutshell. Take out your mobile phone. How it works, (the functionality), protected by hundreds, if not thousands of patents. The name on the phone (Samsung, Apple, Sony) or your network provider (O2, Virgin, Vodafone), are all registered trade marks.

The look of the phone will be a registered design, and copyright will cover all your photos, the instructions and the software coding in all your apps that you have downloaded.

Health Check

This process can be applied to any product or service. What is protected? The function, the look, the name. They are all separate forms of protection and the skill in any business, is to be able to identify what you own, and make an informed decision whether to file for a registered right or rely on unregistered rights.

Still not sure? Then make use of our online tools, especially the IP Health Check and perform your own IP audit, you may own more than you think!

Want to speak to someone face to face? Then come along to one of our IP events. We will be somewhere near you soon.

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  1. Comment by Peter Smith posted on

    If you are going to be pedantic about spellings, please note that the trade mark is Vodafone, not Vodaphone.

  2. Comment by Mark posted on

    Pay-tent leather shoes are so-called because a pa-tent was obtained for the new type of shiny leather, so the words do have a common origin.

  3. Comment by Samara posted on

    I found this very informative being new to the office and not knowing much about other areas of the office other than Patents.