As a business, your trademark is what distinguishes your goods and/or services from those of other competitors and is therefore one of your most important assets. When choosing a trademark, business owners and marketing departments should consider the legal aspect alongside the marketing view of choosing a brand name and/or logo that is attractive and suitable for the business. Trecina Surti sets out some tips to help your business create an effective trademark that can be protected and enforced.
Considerations when deciding on a new brand name
One of the most common mistakes brand owners make is choosing a highly descriptive trademark for the goods and/or services sold. A descriptive trademark is generally not registrable as a trademark because it would prevent other companies in the industry from using those descriptive words to describe their products; for example, using ‘RIPE BANANAS’ for the sale of bananas is not a registerable brand name. If you are keen to use a descriptive term, it would be a good idea to include a distinctive logo or use the term alongside a distinctive brand name, as this will help to achieve registration.
Another form of trademarks brand owners and marketing departments favour are acronyms. We recommend exercising some caution when attempting to use and/or register an acronym as a trademark. Three letter trademarks can be difficult to remember and are likely to encounter problems when it comes to enforcing rights, as the level of similarity is more difficult to assess than with normal word marks. In particular, businesses should steer clear of attempting to register popular industry acronyms or acronyms of descriptive words, as these will likely encounter objections. However, we do not propose ruling out acronyms entirely as there have been many successful acronyms that do function as a trademark, for example KFC, DHL and the BBC. Although do bear in mind that these trademarks have been in use for long periods of time and have established substantial reputations.
When considering potential trademarks you should also ensure that you are not attempting to register/use a term that has a descriptive meaning in another language. It is common for the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to reject trademark applications that contain terms which describe characteristics of the goods/services in another member state language. Therefore, you should ensure the mark you propose to use is not a common or offensive term in another jurisdiction. This will also help to mitigate any problems should you wish to expand your business internationally in the long term.
Trademark rights are territorial so a registered trademark will give you the rights to use that mark for the goods/services covered but only in the territory that you have it registered. Therefore it is important that, before registering and using your proposed trademark, you conduct due diligence in the relevant territory. This will help your business avoid a situation where it has launched a product under a new brand name and invested a substantial amount of money, but is later required to change the name or logo because it is infringing earlier rights.
Thus, before registering or using a trademark we recommend conducting a prior search to see if there are any trademarks already in use in the marketplace, or on the register. We highly recommend conducting searches in countries such as the USA and China, as these trademark offices will reject your trademark application if it is identical or highly similar to a trademark already registered in that country. While this is not the case in the UK and the EU, you still need to ensure there are no other similar marks as your application can be opposed by third parties with prior rights.
We recommend you think ahead before using a new brand name and only invest time and money into a new brand when you are aware of the legal implications. On the whole, a highly distinctive, newly-created word is usually a registerable trademark and effective brand name, e.g. Kodak.