What you need to know about trademarks

A trademark is a sign that is capable of being represented graphically and is used in commerce to distinguish the goods and/or services of one undertaking from those of another.

It can be either a letter, number, word, phrase, logo, shape, colour, sound, picture, aspect of packaging or any combination of these.

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Why do trademarks need protection?

Your trademark can quickly become your single most valuable asset.

Happy consumers will buy your product again, but need a distinguishing sign to identify it from the sea of competitive products out there.

Make sure you provide them with a memorable sign and protect it from being copied and taken advantage of.

intellectual property

What makes a trademark registrable?

Intuitively, one might think:

A trademark has to be memorable, unique, with a sprinkle of funny perhaps.

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memorable trademarks; intangible assets; intellectual property rights

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Trademark Law says: Trademarks have to be able to distinguish the products/services of one undertaking from another. The distinctiveness of trademarks must always be judged in the light of the goods and/or services for which registration is sought.

intellectual property rights

For example, it cannot be a term, shape or image commonly used in the relevant industry to indicate the properties of the goods and/or services associated with the trademark.

So, in theory, unless you are offering cat chauffeur services, the above image should be registrable for virtually anything.

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Well, that is not the full picture. The distinctiveness of your trademark also depends on how it is perceived by the relevant consumer in relation to the goods/services at hand.

If the relevant public perceives it as anything different from an indication of origin for the associated goods/services it is deemed non-distinctive and hence non-registrable.

Now imagine the driving cat image printed on a T-shirt, which is a product your company manufactures and offers for sale. Would you see the image as an indicator of origin or simply an integral part/characteristic of the product?

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Protect your intangible assets.

While few of us have brilliant business ideas that would merit IP protection under Patents or Registered Designs, there is no excuse for not protecting a trademark. The cost of a basic community trademark application is €850. If successfully registered a EUTM provides you with protection in all 28 member states of the European Union.

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Types of trademarks

registrable word trademarks; registrable verbal trademarks


A lot of famous brand names consist of just one word. Words are commonly registered as trademarks.

You can register a word as a trademark under certain conditions, e.g. as long as it is not descriptive of the goods and/or services associated with that trademark.

registration logos / figurative marks


A logo is a small design, symbol or emblem that is commonly adopted by commercial enterprises to aid identify and promote its products and/or services.

Logos do not need to be elaborate and can be registered as long as they do not generically depict the goods and/or services associated with the trademark.

registrable logos / designs / words / letters


A trademark could also be a combination of letters/words and a design.

To be registrable, at least one of the elements has to be non-descriptive of the goods and/or services associated with the trademark.

registrable slogans trademarks


Slogans are memorable phrases generally employed in advertising campaigns. These can also be registered as trademarks as long as they contain fanciful expressions that stretch beyond generic laudatory statements.

registrable three dimensional trademarks; registrable shape trademarks


A 3D shape can be registered as a trademark if it distinguishes the product for which registration is sought from the products of other companies.

In case of three-dimensional trademarks, however, determining the distinctiveness could be more difficult than is the case with word or figurative trademarks. Only trademarks that significantly deviate from the norm or from what is common in the sector involved, and therefore can serve to indicate origin, are distinctive. 3D or shape trademarks are registered to protect the visual appearance of a product, but not how that product works.

registrable colour trademarks; registrable colour brands


If a colour or a combination of colours is able to perform the trademark function of uniquely identifying the commercial origin of products or services, then it can be registered as a trademark.

In the European Union, an applicant for a EU trademark or a national trademark in the EU has to prove an enhanced distinctiveness through use, as a colour as such is not considered to be a distinctive 'trademark'

Colour is seen as extremely important in branding. It is argued that when someone looks at a logo, the colour is the foremost thing they remember. This is why brands go to great lengths to protect their brand colours.

Can you guess which brands the colours below are associated with?