By Rob Reading, Director, CompuMark, a brand of Clarivate Analytics
It wasn’t long ago that banks and other businesses within the financial sector could be fairly easily identified just from their names. Bank of America, National Westminster, American Express, Mastercard…customers were under no illusions as to who they were dealing with.
The reality today couldn’t be more different. Not only have ambitious entrepreneurs and start-ups carved out a new sector in the marketplace — the ‘fintech’ industry — but the businesses within this sector bear names that could just as likely be fashion labels or nightclubs.
This sea change was observed, in the UK at least, in 1998, when a new online bank arrived on the scene called ‘Egg’. In a way, the success of Egg was very much down to it being in the right place at the right time; the old established banks had started shutting their smaller branches, which meant consumers were finding it more difficult to speak to the people who held their money when they needed to. But the name was also a masterstroke. The word egg is simple, familiar, accessible, and so consumers looked upon the business in the same way.
Since then we’ve seen the rise of ‘new-wave’ fintech companies such as ‘Atom’, ‘Smile’ and most recently ‘Monzo’, and at the same time there’s been a huge rise in these fintech firms creating products — either for customers or the banks themselves made possible by technology. Yoyo Wallet, for example, is an app that enables mobile payments and automated loyalty, while Monese is a digital banking service that lets users open a UK banking account on their mobile in minutes regardless of their citizenship.
Rewind back to the pre-Egg era and it would have been strange to see such financial institutions offering products rather than services, but the need to differentiate themselves from the rest of the competition has forced them down this particular path.
This tendency to deliver products to customers has resulted in a sharp rise in trademark registrations. In 2016, fintechs registered 4,228 trademarks in total — a figure that has risen from just 3,141 in 2011. Recognising how easy it is for emerging competitors to copy financial products in what is a ruthless industry, fintechs have sensibly decided to protect their intellectual property before it’s too late.
While the above statistic might be surprising, the numbers are set to rise yet further, with investors currently throwing huge sums of money into the global industry in an attempt to promote new products and services. According to research from London & Partners, they have pumped over £825 million into UK fintech companies so far in 2017, while Forbes reports that US-based fintechs raised $6.2 billion in 2016.
Trademark infringement is something that all businesses need to grapple with, and with the above figures in mind fintechs are no exception. However, finding unique names that can be successfully cleared and registered may become more difficult as the marketplace becomes more crowded and competitive and trademark infringement continues to rise.
This is where the fintechs can learn from the large, traditional banks, who have spent years building a vast intellectual property empire to remain protected. For example, while many of us casually use the word ‘cashpoint’ to describe ATMs, only a very small number of us would know that the word is trademarked to the UK high street bank Lloyds.
The trademark process is a challenging yet important one for any business, and this is amplified yet further for fintechs. The sheer amount of money being pumped into the industry proves there is a wealth of opportunities for growth, but it also means the marketplace is becoming more saturated with competitors hoping to cash in on the boom.
This complicates things considerably from a trademark perspective. Not only is it more difficult for an individual fintech to successfully clear and register their chosen trademark in the first place, but more effort is also required to ensure that their chosen trademark(s) are protecting their intellectual property assets as required. Therefore, start-ups within the industry must remain constantly vigilant as to the latest marketplace developments and the moves of their competitors if they want to remain protected, while also taking an outside-of-the-box approach to how trademarks can protect not just their brand name or logo, but the products and services they offer.
 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/boom-in-fintech-innovations-drives-record-number-of-trade-mark-applications-by-uk-finance-firms-a8011701.html  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/london-financial-technology-fintech-firms-investment-record-year-brexit-fears-a8007351.html  https://www.forbes.com/sites/lawrencewintermeyer/2017/02/17/global-fintech-vc-investment-soars-in-2016/#2a3925ac2630