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information and advice - trademarks

What is a trade mark?

A trade mark is a sign which can distinguish your goods and services from those of your competitors. It can be for example words, logos or a combination of both.

You can use your trade mark as a marketing tool so that customers can recognise your products or services.

A trade mark must be:

  • distinctive for the goods and services you provide. In other words it can be recognised as a sign that differentiates your goods or service as different from someone else's.

You may be familiar with the trade marks below. They don't describe the goods or services, which is why they are good examples of registrable trade marks.

The above logos have been reproduced with kind permission of WH Smith Retail Limited and PZ Cussons (International) Limited.

Trade marks are not registrable if they:

  • describe your goods or services or any characteristics of them, for example, marks which show the quality, quantity, purpose, value or geographical origin of your goods or services;
  • have become customary in your line of trade;
  • are not distinctive;
  • are three dimensional shapes, if the shape is typical of the goods you are interested in (or part of them), has a function or adds value to the goods;
  • are specially protected emblems;
  • are offensive;
  • are against the law, for example, promoting illegal drugs; or;
  • are deceptive. There should be nothing in the mark which would lead the public to think that your goods and services have a quality which they do not.

A registered trade mark must be renewed every 10 years to keep it in force.

Standard trade marks make up the vast majority of marks accepted but there are other marks which indicate particular standards for goods, or that the owner of the mark is a member of an organisation. You may want to find out more about these other marks before deciding whether you want to register your mark.

If you have a company name registered with Companies House, this does not mean that you have a trade mark. We have further information on registering your company name as a trade mark.

Do I need to register my trade mark?


The above information is reproduced courtesy of the Intellectual Property Office

January 2011