This article was originally posted on AIB’s business articles on February 28, 2017.
A trademark helps to separate similar products sold by competing companies and helps customers to remember a certain product.
Customers who are satisfied with a particular product link the trademark of that product with reliability and quality. This creates trust and means that in the future the customer will make repeat purchases of goods sold under that trademark. What this means for businesses is that trademarks are extremely important marketing tools and can add substantial value to a company and its products. Before adopting and using a new trademark, a company needs to have a clear strategy of how it intends to protect that trademark and prevent others from using it.
It is all well and good developing a new brand but a company needs to ensure that the trade mark is available and is not being used for a similar product by a competing company. It is crucial to conduct a search of the relevant trademark registers to ensure a third party has not already registered your trademark.
A comprehensive trade mark search requires specialist software as well as an understanding of trade mark law. A simple internet search is not sufficient. A trademark practitioner can review the results of a trademark search and give a good indication of whether a mark is available to use and register.
Business involves risk and while a trademark search is not infallible, it helps a company assess the risk posed by adopting a particular trademark. If a company launches a new product on the market without undertaking a search, there is a real chance somebody else has exclusive rights to use that trademark. This can have serious and severe commercial repercussions for the business such as a total re-brand, the granting of a court injunction to stop using the mark, damages and whole product lines having to be destroyed. A trademark search helps to reduce the risk of this happening.
Before launching, a business needs to be sure what territories it will be selling its products in. There are different registration systems available to secure trademark rights. For example, it is possible to register your mark on a country-by-country basis by filing national trademark applications, e.g. if you only want to protect your mark in Ireland, then you can register your mark by filing an Irish trademark application.
If you will be exporting to Europe, a very cost effective option of securing EU-wide trade mark rights is by registering your mark as a European Union Trade Mark. This gives you exclusive trademark rights in all 28 EU member states. There is also the option of the International Trade Mark System. This allows a company to protect its trademark in over 98 territories by simply filing one application and selecting the individual countries it wants its International Trade Mark to cover.
The cost depends on the number of territories selected. An International trademark also allows a company to manage their portfolio of marks through one centralised system.
It is also a good idea for a company to register its trademark in the country where their goods are being manufactured. Sometimes a foreign manufacturer contracted to produce branded goods for a particular company will go ahead and register the trademark themselves. This means that the manufacturer holds the trademark rights and could even prevent the company which hired it from using the mark in that country. Therefore, a company should secure its trademark rights before entering a deal with a particular manufacturer or company, especially abroad and in countries which are intellectual property abuse hotspots (such as china).
If a company’s goods are likely to be counterfeited, then it is wise for the business to register its trade marks with customs. Customs will seize any goods it suspects are counterfeit and will seek confirmation from the business owner whether the goods are genuine or fake.
Watch and Enforcement Strategy
Once a trademark is registered, a company must maintain the exclusivity of its trade mark to prevent damage to its brand. Monitoring tools such as trademark watches mean that a trade mark owner is notified when somebody else tries to register a similar trademark. This allows the trade mark owner to identify potential infringers so that the company can enforce its rights. This can prevent or halt customer confusion, loss of sales or damage to a company’s brand. Trade mark watches are an invaluable tool in policing a company’s trade mark.
How trademarks help your business
Having a clear trademark strategy helps a company focus their efforts on protecting their brand. It means a business owner will be able to gauge the availability of a particular trademark. A trademark strategy provides a blueprint for how and where the company can obtain exclusive rights to use a particular trademark. It gives the company an outline of how they will police and enforce their trademark rights.