Own-it | Intellectual Property Know-How for Creative Businesses


What kind of sign can be a trade mark?

Published 01.11.08 at 09:30

The sign can be anything that can be represented graphically. Words and pictures are the most common sort of trade marks. Sometimes other things can be trade marks if they can be graphically represented such as, smells (written as a chemical formula), sounds (written as music or shapes of sounds), 3D shapes (by drawings of them) and colours (as identified by a pantone colour number).

You can't alter your trade mark or add goods or services once you've sent in your trade mark application form to the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO). Furthermore, they will not refund your application fee for any reason, even if they object to your trade mark. So, it's worth understanding as much as you can about what signs can be trade marked before you fill out your application form.

To save yourself time and money, you should consider the following:

  • Is your trade mark a distinctive word, logo, picture or other sign that will clearly identify your goods or services from those of other traders? If the UK IPO doesn't think it is, it will object to your mark.
  • Has someone else already registered or applied to register a trade mark that looks or sounds similar or the same to yours or similar or the same goods or services? If so, the UK IPO will object to your mark.
  • Is the mark likely to be deemed by the UK IPO as 'too descriptive' (i.e. describing your goods or services or any characteristics of them) or as 'not distinctive'? If so, they will probably object to your mark. Conversely, invented words or words that aren't associated with your goods or services are deemed as highly distinctive and are often granted trade marks.

For example, if you wanted to register, 'Quality Web Design' as a trade mark, or 'Tasty Pies', or 'Beds Direct' – your mark would be objected to for those reasons. 'Quality Web Design' is too descriptive as it describes what you do exactly; 'Tasty Pies' wouldn't work as you are describing the quality of your goods and describing what you are selling; 'Beds Direct' would be objected to because the word 'direct' describes goods or services sold directly to the public and is widely used. The kind of goods being sold are also described. However, 'Farmcos Quality Web Design' might be considered to be distinctive enough, as the public would see 'Farmcos' as being the trade mark. Furthermore, the addition of an invented word, logo or picture could make your mark more distinctive and therefore enable the UK IPO to consider it.

So, ensure your trade mark sign is a distinctive world, picture, logo or other sign that clearly identifies your goods or services from other businesses. You can use the UK IPO's Search and Advisory Service to give you a definite option as to whether your trade mark is distinctive enough.

Content supplied by Briffa. Photo credit: Anyjazz65


Please note that this article discusses the legal position in the UK at the time of publication. It provides general information only but is not to be regarded as legal advice. You must take advice from a specialist lawyer in relation to your specific circumstances. Further, you should seek additional legal advice when dealing with parties based in other parts of the world or works originating from other parts of the world as the legal position may vary.


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