What is a Trade Mark?

A trade mark is a particular sign, or get up, used by a business to distinguish its goods or services from those of other businesses. In the UK, a trade mark proprietor’s rights can be protected by obtaining a registered trade mark from the UK Intellectual Property Office. In addition, the rights can be protected at common law by the tort of passing off which protects the goodwill and reputation which has developed through trading and promotion.

Under the Trade Marks Act 1994, any sign which can be represented graphically and which is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of another can potentially be registered. There are however certain exclusions such as when the trade mark is descriptive of the goods it is to be registered for. An example would be trying to register the word “soap” in respect of soap.

Various well known trade marks take various different forms such as word marks (Microsoft), logo’s (the Nike tick) shapes (Toblerone box) and sounds (the Direct Line insurance jingle).

It can often be more difficult to register trade marks which consist, for example, of shapes or sounds because the average consumer does not typically distinguish goods by those signs but is more accustomed to distinguishing by the word or logo marks on the product itself. We all use trade marks each day to ensure we know where the product we are buying is coming from and hence guarantee the quality we are expecting.

Last update on 28.09.11 by the ACID Team.

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