Why Is Trade Mark Protection Important For My Small Business?
When starting a small business, it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the registration requirements needed to get your business operating. However, it is important that small business owners do not overlook the importance of trade mark protection. Trade marks can become essential for long-term growth. This article outlines:
- what a trade mark is;
- why trade marks are important for your small business; and
- how to register a trade mark.
What Is a Trade Mark?
Trade marks are not just a logo. They are a form of intellectual property that is used to protect your brand by distinguishing your products or services from those of your competitors. Trade marks protect a range of brand elements, such as a:
- unique name; or
- distinctive color scheme.
Unregistered Trade Marks vs. Registered Trade Marks
Often you will find that a product or service is labelled with the ‘™’ symbol. This means that the trade marked good or service has not been registered as a trade mark, but that the business intends the phrase or logo to serve as an identifier of their good or service. This can be particularly useful for a small business that:
- has just created a new product or service; or
- is in the process of registering a trade mark for this product or service
However, an unregistered trade mark is not comprehensively protected under trade mark law. Conversely, a registered trade mark gives you the exclusive right to use, license and sell its trade mark for 10 years from its filing date. Trade marks that are registered with IP Australia will carry the symbol ‘®’.
Why Are Trade Marks Important?
Trade marks are important for setting the foundations for your business’ potential growth. since they can:
- protect your business from competitors; and
- differentiate your business from competitors.
Building Your Reputation
For a small business, building a good reputation is vital to both short term and long term success. Registered trade marks protect the features of a business which make it unique and identifiable to customers, such as its name or logo. Often, a business’ name or logo are closely associated with its reputation, goodwill and quality of its products and services.
For example, the Golden Arches is one of the most recognisable symbols in the world and is closely associated with the fast-food chain McDonald’s.
Therefore, it is important that competitors cannot misuse your business’ identifiable features and potentially ruin your business’ reputation. Trade marks offer your brand legal protection, giving you the exclusive right to use your business’ name or logo when selling your products or services. Once your small business has gained a positive reputation for its products or services, consumers are more likely to associate your trade mark with that reputation.
Protection From Competitors
Since registered trade marks give you the exclusive right to use your trade marks, this allows you to take action against competitors who infringe on those rights. For example, if a competitor copies your trade marked slogan and uses it to sell their products, your protection under intellectual property law allows you to pursue legal action. Registering a trade mark also means that you are less likely to infringe on another person’s intellectual property rights, if you protect your trade mark before they can protect their similar mark.
Product or Service Differentiation
A trade mark can also be a valuable marketing tool for small business owners when differentiating their products or services from competitors. Since trade marks are closely associated with the reputation of the business, your products and services which bear the brand name or logo will also be closely associated with the business’ reputation. Beyond legal protection, trade marks can ultimately help small businesses make their products or services stand out in the market.
How Do I Apply for a Trade Mark?
You can apply for trade mark registration online via IP Australia. It is important that you follow the application properly to avoid costly mistakes. Before making an application, it is important that you determine:
- the type of trade mark you are applying for (this ranges from colour trade marks to sound trade marks, for example);
- whether an existing or similar trade mark exists (this can be completed through a trade mark check); and
- the class that your good or service can be classified under.
Once you have determined these issues, you can file an application with IP Australia. Your application will require:
- your personal details;
- a representation or image of your trade mark;
- a description of the good or service that the trade mark will apply to; and
- the required fee.
Trade marks can become essential to a business’ long-term growth. Registered trade marks not only protect your business from competitors during a volatile stage of growth but can also differentiate your business from competitors through brand recognition. If you have any questions about trade mark protection, contact our experienced trade mark lawyers on 1300 657 423 or fill out the form on this page.
Frequently Asked Questions
The obligation to register a business name is separate from protecting any intellectual property rights in the business name. If your business has only registered its name, there is a chance that another person who has trade marked the name can use it. Only once you have trade marked your business name do you have the exclusive rights to use the name or part of the name.
A trade mark can last up to 10 years from its filing date. However, trade marks can be renewed before this period lapses.
Whilst there is no fee to register a trade mark, there are application costs. These costs largely depend on the type of trade mark being applied for and the type of registration process undertaken.