A painful lesson in IP

In 2019, The Table was preparing a party to celebrate five years of adventures in brand language. One year on, the brand no longer exists. Founder Rob Self-Pierson shares what happened to his company's trade mark, and how to avoid making the same mistake.

A painful lesson in IP

by Rob Self-Pierson

It was meant to be a year of celebration. 2019, five years since I took the step up from freelance life to create my own brand language studio, The Table.

The name had come from a conversation with a designer—and my growing desire to bring more skills, more people, and especially more writers to the table to help brands find better ways to express themselves.

In June 2014, I registered the company with Companies House. By the end of the year, we’d teamed up with James Greenfield’s new design studio, Koto, to develop Gumtree’s tone of voice. Within twelve months, we were working with several high-profile clients and agency partners across the UK.

One of those was CITMA, the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys. They needed help putting into words the fighting spirit that had just won them a Royal Charter. Like with all big verbal identity projects, we immersed ourselves in the subject. We soon knew far more than we needed about intellectual property to develop the tone of voice. But sadly not enough to save us from a lot of pain.

Our relationship with CITMA continued. By 2019, we’d written so many articles about the value of owning your intellectual property (IP) and the importance of registering a trade mark, I started the process with our own. Hearing our clients play with the metaphor ('Is there space at The Table for us?'), it was clear we'd reached a point where our brand was as valuable as the work we were producing. Hiring a solicitor felt very grown up. And I couldn't stop smiling following a meeting at the Intellectual Property Office. Then I received the email.

While we’d been focusing our energy on clients and growth, another company calling itself The Table had registered and applied for 'The Table' trade mark. They’d got it quickly and quietly and now sent us a cease and desist notice.

It was with the heaviest heart I had to say goodbye to my first company. With all we’d learned from working with CITMA and its clients, I still kick myself for not applying for the trade mark earlier. But these things happen. And I hope any business owner reading this learns from my mistake. Please listen when I say:

  • If you have a great brand, protect it
  • If you're not sure where to start, take a look at citma.org.uk
  • If you lose everything else, never give up hope

Because crises lead to opportunities. And today we’re proud to be The Brand Language Studio—more experienced, a little wiser, excited to bring more colour to language in business, and now, officially, the proud owners of a registered trade mark!

I wish The Table's trade mark owners well and hope they treat their name with the love and respect it deserves. 

by Rob Self-Pierson