Everything You Need to Know About Trademarking in Design

What Exactly is a Trademark?

Technically speaking, a trademark can be a word, a phrase, a design or logo that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods and services of one company from those of others. Practically, we meet up with trademarks in various areas of life, both consciously and unconsciously. They influence consumer behavior and are often decisive in purchasing decisions. They serve the consumers as reference points in the overflowing offer of goods and services and a guide as to whether they can trust where the product comes from. In addition, the trademark identified with a brand as an intangible good is of enormous economic importance for businesses of all sizes.

Thus trademarks have a major role in marketing, as they individualize goods and services to distinguish them from those of the competition. In the fashion industry, from international luxury brands such as Burberry or Chanel, as well as global sports brands such as Nike or Adidas, trademarks can acquire an immense economic value, and for many founders or established entrepreneurs, this raises the question whether the trademark should be officially protected or not.

Why Register a Trademark?

Although it is not obligatory to apply for trademark registration, there are several advantages to doing so, including the exclusive right to use the trademark in connection with the affected goods and services. Whether you are a fashion startup or an established fashion label, a protected trademark not only distinguishes your products from similar products and services from others, but also provides legal protection and enforceability against trademark infringement by third parties.

Legal protection means that if someone else uses your registered trademark without authorization or even uses a confusingly similar trademark, you can enforce your earlier rights against anyone, and prohibit their use in general.

In summary, one of the main motives for applying for a trademark is to prevent others from copying one’s ideas or damaging one’s reputation by bringing a lower-quality product onto the market under a similar trademark. In practice, it is then easy to prove who has the earlier rights, which enables you to pursue legal action.

Apart from the legal advantages, a registered trademark as an intangible asset increases the value of a business. It also allows the trademark owner to use the “®” symbol, which shows the market that the trademark has been registered with an official trademark office.

Furthermore, a trademark is the most valuable link and the strongest bond between a company and a customer. Customer behavior determines the success and development of the brand, while brands influence customer behavior through an identity-forming, symbolic role of representing the interests and values of the customer to the outside world. Therefore, a trademark cannot only be seen as an investment in marketing communication, or just a key strategy for a company to retain customers, but much more also as a trustworthy source of information and an influential and awareness-raising force in society.

How to Register a Trademark?

A trademark is protected by a successful registration as a word mark (written identification), figurative mark (figurative representation) or word/figurative mark (combination of written identification and figurative representation) in the relevant trademark registers. There are several ways to do this: Domestically, registration is through the national trademark registration via the Austrian Patent Office (ÖPA); at the EU level, registration is via the Office of the European Union for Intellectual Property (EUI- PO). There is also a third possibility of international trademark registration via the Office of the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva (WIPO). While a national trademark grants protection in Austria, the Union trademark provides uniform protection for all member states of the European Union.

Due to the increasing internationalization of the trademark system, the practical importance of international trademark applications has also increased. Through an international trademark application, it is even possible to extend an existing trademark or its protective function to countries outside of Europe.

The scope of protection of a trademark is determined by the goods and services for which it is protected. Therefore, the application must, in any case, contain a list of the goods and services to be designated by the mark applied for. Once the application has been received by the chosen trademark office, the list of goods and services cannot be extended. However, restrictions are permissible at any time.

Once a trademark has been successfully registered, it enjoys protection for 10 years, renewable as often as desired before expiry by paying the required renewal fee. 

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