Trade Marks – Introduction

 
(Photo credits: Pattista)

Trade marks (spelt trademarks in the US) are the most visible form of intellectual property to regular consumers on daily basis. They are argued to be the oldest form of intellectual property known to man as it was used from the oldest of ages by people to identify the source of goods.

The functions of Trade mark is considered to include:

  1. A method for identifying the source of a good or service.
  2. A method to distinguish the goods of a merchant from those of others.
  3. A guarantee of quality (good and bad quality).
  4. And a branding/advertising medium

Trade marks differ from other intellectual property in that they primarily protect a consumer interested (not to have consumers misled by products using the trade marks of others) as well as the interests of businesses (the right to distinguish one’s goods from those of others). Almost all other intellectual property subjects are concerned about protecting the creative and inventive products of businesses and are not concerned with the interests of consumers. This makes trade mark law the least controversial intellectual property as it has the society benefits to all parties almost adequetly balanced.

Generally speaking, a trade mark is a sign registered by a business in a country to have the exclusive right to use that sign in a specific business type or industry. A trade mark must be registered in each jurisdiction to acquire protection in that specific area. The protection of a trade mark can be renewed forever as long as this trade mark remains distinctive and is used by the business. (Unlike patents which can only last for a maximum of years and unlike copyright which does not require registration but is also protected for a limited time period only).Once someone registers a trade mark, he will be able to stop others from using a similar mark on similar goods or service for which he regsitered the mark as long as he can prove that others will confuse the source of the goods to which the infringing sign was attached. 

Certain powerful trade marks can also be protected against the use of goods and services which are not similar if they can establish that this will dilute their trade mark. Certain jurisdictions also grant trade marks the right not to be tarnished.

Trade mark law is very much related to unfair competition law in many jurisdiction because taking an advantage someone else’s goodwill can be considered as an unfair competition practice. It is also directly related to the law of passing off in common law jurisdictions which grants protection to unregistered marks as well as the goodwill of a business.

I have already made a post about the issue of trade marks and domain names. I will talk in future posts about the technical differences between trade mark law in the US, Japan, and Europe.

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