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, more unusual types of trade marks include sounds (such as advertising jingles), three-dimensional shapes (such as the shape of goods or their packaging), colours or colour combinations, and even smells.
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 that 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 filing an application to register a trade mark, and taking that application successfully through the registration procedure.
Registered trade marks are territorial, which means that a trade mark that is registered in one country will only confer protection in that country. Most countries have national trade mark offices (registries) that have the right to grant trade mark registrations in that country. However, it is also possible to obtain trade mark registrations which give rise to rights in more than one country, for example, a Benelux trade mark registration covers Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, plus there is an international registration scheme (the Madrid Protocol) managed by the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), that facilitates tailored international protection.
A registered trade mark can have significant commercial value as it gives its owner exclusive rights in relation to that trade mark. The exact rights afforded by a registered trade mark can vary from one jurisdiction to another but, in general terms, a trade mark registration gives its owner the right to prevent others from making unauthorised uses of signs (such as trade names, names of products or services, logos, domain names) that are identical, or in some circumstances similar, to the registered trade mark, in the territory in which the mark is registered.
The right to prevent unauthorised uses generally only applies where another's sign has been used in relation to goods or services that 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, those exclusive rights could extend to entirely different goods or services if there is a risk that the earlier mark will be damaged in some way as the result of that use.
As with other types of property, it is possible to buy or sell a registered trade mark, to grant a licence for its use, or to use it as security.
While other intellectual property rights have a limited duration, a registered trade mark can last indefinitely provided it is renewed periodically, and the registration is not invalidated or revoked.