What is a trade mark?
Trade marks are signs used in the course of trade to distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors.
Most trade marks are words, logos, symbols, designs, letters, numerals or combinations of these elements. However, there are some more unusual types of trade marks including sounds (such as advertising jingles), three-dimensional shapes (such as the shape of goods or their packaging), colours or colour combinations etc.
The legal definition of a trade mark varies slightly from one jurisdiction to another. In the United Kingdom and European Union, a trade mark is defined as any sign which is capable of distinguishing the goods and services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings.
What is a registered trade mark?
A registered trade mark is a property right which is obtained by applying to register a trade mark and successfully completing the registration procedure.
Registered trade marks are territorial. Most countries have national trade mark offices which grant trade mark registrations covering their particular country. However, it is also possible to obtain trade mark registrations which give rise to rights in more than one country and there is also an international registration scheme (the Madrid Protocol) managed by WIPO.
A registered trade mark can have significant commercial value as it gives its owner exclusive rights in relation to the trade mark that has been registered. The exact rights afforded by a registered trade mark can vary from one jurisdiction to another. In general terms, a trade mark registration gives its owner the right to prevent others from making unauthorised uses of signs (for example, trade names, the names of products or services, logos, domain names) that are identical, or sometimes merely similar, to the registered trade mark, in the territory covered by the registration.
The right to prevent unauthorised uses generally only applies where another's sign has been used in relation to goods and services which are identical, or possibly similar, to those for which the trade mark is registered. However, if the registered trade mark has a sufficiently substantial reputation, it is possible that exclusive rights could extend to entirely different goods.
As with other types of property, it is possible to buy or sell a registered trade mark, grant a licence to others to use a registered trade mark (usually in return for royalties), or to offer a registered trade mark as security.
While other intellectual property rights have a limited duration, registered trade marks can last indefinitely provided that they are renewed periodically and are not invalidated or revoked.