Trade marks are symbols that distinguish goods and services in the marketplace (like brand names and logos) from those of competitors. It can be for example words, logos or a combination of both. They are signs used in trade and a trade mark is usually used as a marketing tool so that customers can recognise particular products or services.
In the United Kingdom, trade marks are protected in two main ways.
Trade marks, or more precisely the goodwill associated with the business conducted under the trade mark, is protected via the common law tort of 'passing off'. If you can prove that you have established, via the use of the trade mark, 'goodwill' in the business associated with that trade mark, then this goodwill is protectable. Goodwill is essentially a reputation in the mark.
Trade marks are also protected via statutory protection under the Trade Marks Act 1994. Trade marks can be protected by registering the trade mark at the UK Trade Marks Registry. A registered trade mark in the United Kingdom is infringed by the use of the same or similar sign in relation to the same or similar goods and services for which the trade mark is registered.
Further details are available on the UK government website.
European and international trade marks
You can use a single application system to apply for an International trade mark (for certain countries throughout the world), or a community trade mark (for protection in Europe).
Both these single application systems cover many countries including the United Kingdom. An international application can be made at the same time as making a UK application.
Community trade mark (CTM)
If you want trade mark protection in countries which are members of the European Union (EU), you can apply for a community trade mark (CTM) through the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM), based in Alicante, Spain. The CTM system creates a unified trademark registration system in Europe, further details are available from the Intellectual Property Office.
A trade mark must be:
- Distinctive in terms of the goods and services provided. In other words it can be recognised as a sign that distinguishes one organisation's goods or service from someone else's
- Renewed every 10 years to keep it in force.