A trademark is a design, sign or expression that identifies a product or service. It differentiates a company’s product or service from that of other companies. Trademark owners can be organizations, businesses, legal entities or individuals. Trademarks are usually located on packages, vouchers, labels or on the products themselves. To enhance corporate identity, trademarks may also appear on company buildings.
In most countries, you need to have formerly undergone trademark registration before you can file legal suit for trademark infringement. Common law trademark rights are recognized in USA, Canada and other countries. This means that action can be taken in order to protect any unregistered trademark if it is currently being used. Common law trademarks afford the owner less legal protection compared to less registered trademarks.
Typically logos, designs, words, phrases, images, or a combination of such elements can be referred to as trademarks. Non-conventional trademarks are trademarks that do not fall into these categories. They may be based on smell, color or even sounds like jingles. Trademarks can also informally refer to certain distinguishing attributes that identify an individual, e.g. characteristics that make celebrities recognizable. Trademarks that are used to identify services instead of products are known as service marks.
Businesses that register trademarks aim at identifying the source or origin of their products or services. Registered trademarks offer exclusive rights that are enforceable through trademark infringement action. Unregistered trademark rights can be enforced through the common law. It is worth noting that trademark registration rights arise because of the need to use or maintain exclusive rights. Such rights may cover certain products and services including the sign itself. This is applicable where trademark objections are present.
Different goods and services fall in different classes according to the international classification of goods and services. There are 45 trademark classes. Classes 1 to 34 cover goods while services are covered by classes 35 to 45. This system helps to specify and limit any extension to the intellectual property rights. It determines goods and services covered by the mark. It also unifies all classification systems around the globe.
How to Apply for Trademarks
If you intend to use your trademark in several countries, one way of going about it is to apply to each country’s trade mark office. Another way would be to use single application systems that enable you to apply for an international trademark. This system covers certain countries all over the world. If need copyright protection in the European Union, you could apply for a Community trademark.
The single application systems protect your intellectual property in many countries. You end up paying less for multiple territories. There is also less paperwork involved. Apart from the easy process of application you also benefit from faster results and less agent fees.
Application for trademark registration using the international route gives you property rights in countries that are party to the Madrid Protocol. Among its more than 70 member states are the United States, the European Union members and Australia. European Community trademarks are processed through the Office of Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM).