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What is a trademark: protecting your brand, product, company name and logo

A trademark can be any word, sign, symbol or graphic that you apply to your company, goods or services to distinguish them from those of your competitors; for example, a brand, product or company name, or logo. The trademark serves as a badge of origin for your business and its brands and products, and can consist of words, logos, images, slogans, shapes and colours, or a combination of all of these.

Words and pictures are the most common forms of trademark, but other distinguishing signs can be registered, so long as they are capable of being represented graphically. For example, designs have successfully been protected as trademarks (e.g. the Coca-Cola bottle), as have colours (e.g. the yellow of Yellow Pages), family names (e.g. Louis Vuitton), and even smells and sounds.

Trademarks are valuable business assets, as a valid trademark right will enable its owner to prevent others from copying or otherwise taking advantage of the goodwill in the owner’s brand or company name. In cases of copying or infringement, unregistered trademarks offer limited protection, which is why it is generally recommended to register trademark rights at the relevant national or regional trademark office. A registered trademark needs to be renewed at regular periods (generally every 10 years) to keep it in force.

This is a basic introduction to trademarks and the trademark registration process. For details on Novagraaf’s specific trademark services, including searching, watching, international filing and enforcement, click here for our services overview page. To contact one of our attorneys or to review their expertise in your sector, click here.

What is a trademark: the basics

Not every word or logo is capable of being registered as a trademark, and it is recommended that applicants consult with a trademark attorney before attempting to register their brand, product or company name. For example, they will need to verify whether:

  • The selected brand, product or company name is available for registration (trademark searching). If another party has registered or applied to register a trademark that looks or sounds the same or similar to your chosen mark for the same or similar group of goods or services then it is likely that they or the trademark office will object to your mark.
  • The proposed trademark is ‘distinctive’. To be approved by the relevant trademark office, the proposed trademark needs to be a distinctive word, logo, picture or other sign that clearly identifies your goods and services from those of other traders.
  • The proposed trademark can’t be too ‘descriptive’. If the trademark is too descriptive of the goods or services or any characteristics of them, then the trademark office will likely object to your mark. For example, Apple functions as a valid trademark in the computer sector, but it is unlikely to have been approved for use by a company that trades in apples.
  • Certain words and symbols are barred from registration; for example, trademarks that are deemed contrary to public order or morality (e.g. marks that are offensive or blasphemous); armorial bearings, flags and other state emblems; and, marks that mislead the public (e.g. marks indicating geographical origin, such as Champagne).

Trademarks are territorial rights: their registration and enforcement is governed by national laws, and the rights conveyed can vary country-by-country. It’s not possible to register a truly ‘global’ trademark right; however, you can file national, European (European Trade Mark) and International rights, subject to certain criteria and deadlines. For more on filing a national right, click here; for insight on obtaining European or International coverage, click here.

What is a trademark: further information

You can find out more about trademarks and the processes for obtaining, enforcing and exploiting trademark rights, here. For information on Novagraaf’s trademark services, including searching, watching, international filing and enforcement, click here for our services overview page. Alternatively, contact our customer support team, using the contact form at the top right of this page.