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What is a Trade Mark

A trade mark is the most common form of intellectual property owned by businesses and is the property of the business like any other asset.

Trade mark protection is focused on protecting a sign or logo (mark) that a business wants to use or does use.  The sign or logo (mark) is thought of as a ‘badge of origin’ that shows where the goods or services have originated from.  Protecting your sign or logo with a Trade Mark provides protection to the brand the business has created.

To secure trade mark registration and protection, the business or person applying for the Trade Mark must show that the mark distinguishes ‘the products or services provided by the owner’ from the services or products of another person or business that offers the same products or services.

Where you find there is a similar or same sign as yours already registered it still can be possible to register the sign if you can show that you or your company has a reputation for the products or services represented by the mark.

Unlike patents, a trade mark application can be made after the trade mark is already in use and rights exist for the person or company who first use the mark rather than the person or business who first apply for registration.

What can be protected with a Trade Mark

Trade marks can protect:

  • Words,
  • logos,
  • colours,
  • sounds,
  • scents and
  • shapes.   

A combination of a word, logo, colour and shape can also be protected as a single mark.  This type of combination trade mark is known as a Composite Trade Mark.

Interesting examples of Trade Marks:

Words:  Facebook has been granted approval to trade mark the work ‘Face’ but it only applies in the area of telecommunication services, online chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards for message transmission among computer users.  

What does this mean to you?  Well, if you are a blog site and you wanted to use the name ‘face’ in your blog name, Facebook can take court action against you for infringing their name.  However, if you started a paper magazine using the word ‘face’ then Facebook could not claim infringement on their trade mark.

Shapes:  Apple Inc has a trade mark over the design of its retail stores, including the glass-panel fronts and recessed lighting.  Inside their stores the trade mark covers the rectangular tables arranged in a line in the middle of the store, the shelving and display spaces on side walls.  

In addition to their trade mark of the store look, Apple also have been granted a design patent for another one of retail stores in Shanghai.   Both the Trade Mark and Design Patent form part of Apple’s intellectual property and are part of the business’s assets. These assets are used to value the Company.

As you can see, protecting your brand – your uniqueness, is a high priority for large corporations and it should be a high priority for small business and start-ups as well.

Once your trade mark is registered, it cannot be used in any form by anyone, other than the registered trade mark owners.  The registered owner of a trade mark has the exclusive right to use the trade mark, but the owner can authorise other people or organisations to use the trade mark in relation to the products and or services for which the trade mark is registered.