What is a trade mark?
What is a trade mark, what can be registered as a trade mark in the UK and the difference between acceptable and unacceptable trade marks
A trade mark is a way of identifying and distinguishing a product or service of one business from those of others.
What can you register as a trade mark in the UK?
In the UK, trade marks can be:
- words, including personal names, phrases or slogans
- designs, such as logos, symbols or signs
- sounds or jingles
- gestures or movement
- brand names, domain names and company names
- the shape of goods or their packaging
- a combination of any of the above
Note that registering a company name doesn't automatically give you trade mark protection. You should register your company name as a trade mark to secure exclusive rights to its use.
Acceptable trade marks
It is not possible to register all kinds of marks. To be accepted, a trade mark must be:
- distinctive for the goods and services for which you wish to register it
- sufficiently different from other registered trade marks in the same or similar class
Before 14 January 2019, marks also had to be capable of graphical representation, eg being written down. From 14 January 2019, applicants no longer have to represent their mark visually. Marks, however, must still be:
- capable of distinguishing goods or services of one business from another
- represented in a way that determines clearly what is being protected
Unacceptable trade marks
You cannot register as trade marks those marks that:
- are offensive or against the law
- describe the goods or services it will relate to, eg 'quality paint'
- are misleading or deceptive
- are a 3-dimensional shape associated with the mark
- are customary in your line of trade, too common or non-distinctive
- look too similar to state symbols like flags or hallmarks
Trade marks are a valuable piece of intellectual property and can play an important role in your marketing and branding activities. Read about the benefits of trade mark registration.