Exporting to foreign markets is a goal for many companies. However, they often make the mistake of failing to take precautions before dipping their toe into new ventures.

One of your most valuable assets is your Intellectual Property (IP), part of which is your Trade Mark.

It is the one thing that gives your product or services a unique identity; it shows their quality and provenance.

That’s why it should be at the top of your export plan when deciding to spread your wings overseas.

Generally, when deciding to export to foreign markets, most businesses will:

  • Identify potential markets
  • Estimate the demand and market needs
  • Find local partners and distribution channels
  • Adapt product and or marketing
  • Determine prices
  • Participate in trade shows abroad
  • Make logistical arrangements
  • Create a marketing strategy for new markets

However, nowhere on that list is any mention of trade marks and IP protection.

Trade mark registration isn’t universal

One of the most common mistakes made by exporters is their belief that a UK registered trade mark is universal and will protect them wherever they do business.

That’s not the case.

Registered trade marks only apply in the territory of the granting jurisdiction.

As mentioned in our earlier article on registering your trade mark in China, failure to register your trade mark before exporting to foreign markets can result in someone else registering it for their use. This is because many countries run a ‘first to file’ system.

These ‘Trade Mark Squatters’ will not only prevent you from registering your brand; they can take control of manufacturing and selling your product in that country. As if that weren’t enough, it’s also difficult, time-consuming, and costly to get these ‘bad-faith’ registrations cancelled.

That’s why, if you’re planning on exporting, it’s essential you align your global IP strategy with your business strategy.

Other common pitfalls of exporting to foreign markets

The realisation about the importance of protecting your trade mark abroad usually comes too late.

We’ve already looked at the common misconception that trade mark protection is universal, so here are some other pitfalls:

  • Trade mark laws and procedures are different in different countries
  • Not checking whether a trade mark is already registered, or being used by a competitor abroad
  • Not using the regional or international protection system
  • Infringing the rights of others
  • Not defining issues of ownership of IP rights when outsourcing manufacturing
  • Using a trade mark that is inappropriate for the market, you’re looking to enter

The cost of universal protection

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a blossoming money tree to hand, your export investment budget will be limited.

Conquering the world and registering your trade mark globally will be a costly endeavour, which is why you have to be strategic.

Think about your long-term business strategy. What makes sense for your business? Which markets are likely to be the winners for you? Once you’ve decided on your international business plan, protect your trade mark in your chosen countries before you start doing business.

Of course, the other consideration is getting the right help to realise your export plan. Having an experienced trade mark attorney on hand will make sure you don’t fall into any of the pitfalls already discussed. Plus, with their expert guidance, your applications will run smoothly.

Are you ready to trade abroad?

Time, money and other resources invested in your IP may be irretrievably lost if you don’t protect your trade mark before exporting.

That’s why it’s essential to look at this now before you do business abroad.

Exporting is very much a long-term business investment and not a short-term sprint for profit.

Rushing into it with your eyes shut could damage your business’s bank balance and reputation.

For help to assemble an overseas trade mark filing strategy: