Why it’s important to safeguard your brand identity

27 July 2015

A version of this article features in the July 2015 issue of South West Business Insider

As consumers, we’re sensitised to the appearance of even functional products, from cars to TVs, phones to food; it’s a differentiator that frequently plays a key role in our purchasing decisions. In a competitive marketplace, where the look of a product can add significant value, businesses need to look at whether differentiating features can be protected.

It’s often not enough for a company just to come up with products with enhanced functionality. It needs to entice the target consumer and the way that the product is presented – including branding and packaging – can be critical in securing competitive advantage. Once those visible differentiators have been identified it is often possible to ring-fence them. 

The brand is the most obvious visible element. But there are numerous other differentiating aspects that can and sometimes should be protected to provide a brand owner with broader rights to protect features that help a business command a premium price point. 

Globe 1

A wine producer puts a great deal of work into producing a high quality product and, while the branding is central to promoting this proposition to the target market, there are likely to be other aspects of the look and feel of the product to support this; the bottle design, the labelling, its colour ways and packaging. It is often these secondary triggers that competitors try to copy when they want to emulate the success of a competitor’s product.

The importance of these visual elements isn’t specific to the consumer market, it applies equally to engineered products sold in a business to business environment. For example, the inclusion of an unusual design feature in the edge of a range of conveyor belting used in the food industry means the brand owner’s products can be readily distinguished from competing products in the market. Protection of such features can be secured throughout the EU as registered Community designs and, if sufficiently distinctive, as a registered trade mark. 

Businesses should assess their product's key differentiators, decide whether it is possible to protect them and then determine the value to the business of doing so, bearing in mind that these different factors will change over time. While it is still a challenge to protect some product features, such as the taste of food or the smell of a fragrance, this is thankfully unlikely to be important for many businesses.

So it is worth considering that it is possible to register a range of different visual features, and not just brand names, to protect the key differentiating signs of products and so keep them out of the reach of competitors - a process that should start when the product is conceived and then continue throughout its lifecycle.

If you have any questions, please contact me on email or over the phone.

Martin Krause

Martin Krause

Partner

Our Expert
Martin Krause
Martin Krause
Location: Bristol (UK)

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