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Trade marks: protect your brand

1. Register a trade mark

You can register your trade mark to protect your brand, eg the name of your product or service.

When you register your trade mark, you’ll be able to:

  • take legal action against anyone who uses your brand without your permission, including counterfeiters
  • put the ® symbol next to your brand - to show that it’s yours and warn others against using it
  • sell and license your brand
  • How to register a trade mark

  • Check if your brand qualifies as a trade mark.

  • Apply to register your trade mark.

  • Respond to any objections.

  • The registration process takes about 12 months if no-one objects. Registered trade marks last 10 years.

    2. What you can and can't register

    Your trade mark must be unique. It can include:

  • words
  • sounds
  • logos
  • colours
  • a combination of any of these
  • Your trade mark can’t:

  • be offensive, eg contain swear words or pornographic images
  • Check if your trade mark is already registered

    You must search the trade marks database before you send your application to check if anyone has already registered an identical or similar trade mark for the same or similar goods or services.

    You can ask the holder of an existing trade mark for permission to register yours. They must give you a ‘letter of consent’ - you must send this letter with your application.

    You can use a trade mark attorney to help you with searches and registrations.

  • 3. Apply

    Apply to register your trade mark online.

    It costs USD499 to register a trade mark in one class. 

    You need:

  • details of what you want to register, eg a word, illustration or slogan
  • the trade mark classes you want to register for, eg class 1: chemicals, or class 43: food and drink services
  • describe the goods or services it will relate to, eg the word ‘cotton’ can’t be a trade mark for a cotton textile company
  • be misleading, eg use the word ‘organic’ for goods that aren’t organic
  • be a 3-dimensional shape associated with your trade mark, eg use the shape of an egg for eggs
  • be too common and non-distinctive, eg be a simple statement like ‘we lead the way’
  • look too similar to state symbols like flags or hallmarks, based on World Intellectual Property Organization guidelines
  • 4. After you apply

  • If the examiner has no objections your application will be published in thetrade marks journal for3 months, during which time anyone can oppose it.

  • Your trade mark will be registered once any objections are resolved - you’ll get a certificate to confirm this.

  • If your application is opposed

    The Intellectual Property Office will tell you if someone opposes your application.

    You can either:

  • withdraw your application
  • talk to the person making the opposition
  • defend your application
  • You can’t register your trade mark until the matter is settled and may have to pay legal costs if you want to challenge the opposing party.

    Read guidance on your options following an opposition.

    Research previous trade mark decisions to help you with a dispute and prepare for a hearing.

    Once your trade mark is registered

    You must report any changes to your name, address or email address.

    You can object to other people’s trade marks, eg if you think they are identical or similar to yours.

    You can sell, market, license and mortgage your trade mark.

  • Your trade mark will last 10 years - you can renew it after that time.
  • 5. Unregistered trade marks

    You may be able to stop someone using a similar trade mark to yours on their goods and services (known as ‘passing off’), even if you haven’t registered it.

    You’ll usually need to get legal advice from a trade mark attorney.

    It’s harder to prove passing off than it is to defend a registered trade mark. To be successful you’ll need to show that:

  • the mark is yours
  • you’ve built up goodwill associated with the mark
  • you’ve been harmed in some way by the other person’s use of the mark

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