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Trade marks are a valuable business asset for your branding and reputation. However, there are strict requirements on what constitutes a registrable trade mark. Therefore, this article will explain whether you can register a number as a trade mark in New Zealand.

What Is the Purpose of a Trade Mark?

A trade mark is a kind of intellectual property. It is a sign that represents your business. Your customers use it to identify your business as the source of the goods or services you provide. Therefore, it acts as a ‘badge of origin’ linking you to your goods or services. Common examples of trade marks that fulfil this purpose include:

  • business names;
  • logos;
  • slogans;
  • catchphrases;
  • product names; and
  • advertisement jingles.

A trade mark’s worth lies in its uniqueness. Customers will use your trade mark to differentiate between your business and your competitors. Therefore, you want to ensure there is no possibility of customers confusing your trade mark with a competitor’s one. This could result in lost:

  • business;
  • reputation; and 
  • revenue.

For instance, say that you and a competitor both use a similar logo on the packaging of your skincare products. Yours are the higher quality product, but your customers mistake your competitor’s product for yours due to the similar logos. Customers may then complain about what they perceive as a reduction in quality, resulting in lost revenue and a damaged reputation for your business. 

What Can I Register as a Trade Mark?

A trade mark can constitute various elements, as long as they come under what the law defines as a ‘sign’. These include a:

  • brand;
  • colour;
  • letter;
  • name;
  • numeral;
  • shape;
  • signature;
  • smell;
  • sound;
  • taste;
  • word; or
  • combination of these.

However, your trade mark must be capable of:

  • being represented graphically; and
  • distinguishing your goods or services from someone else’s.

As a result, maintaining the distinctiveness and uniqueness of your trade mark is crucial. If you wish to register a trade mark, you must apply to the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) to do so. Registered trade marks grant more benefits than unregistered trade marks, but you must meet IPONZ’s criteria to have a successful application. 

Trade Mark Requirements

When assessing your trade mark, IPONZ will look at a few key characteristics. They consider:

  • the nature of your trade mark itself;
  • your trade mark’s distinctiveness;
  • your trade mark’s ability to represent your business for the goods or services it covers;
  • whether your trade mark conflicts with another existing trade mark on the register that is identical or confusingly similar; and
  • other public policy considerations.

Accordingly, as well as meeting other requirements, your trade mark must be inherently distinctive, meaning it is not:

  • likely to deceive or confuse your customers;
  • a superlative, such as ‘best’;
  • a descriptive term, like ‘soft’ for mattresses;
  • a geographical term that links with your goods or services; or
  • offensive to a significant portion of the community, including Māori.

Additionally, suppose your trade mark is the same or deceptively similar to another person’s earlier application or existing trade mark registration covering the same goods or services. In that case, it conflicts with that trade mark. IPONZ will be unlikely to approve registration.

Trade Mark Essentials in New Zealand

Our free Trade Mark Essentials in New Zealand guide explains how to register and defend your trade mark registration.

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Can I Register a Number as a Trade Mark?

According to the Trade Marks Act’s definitions of what can be a trade mark, you can theoretically register a number as a trade mark. However, you must keep the considerations outlined in the above paragraphs in mind. Your trade mark will only be registrable if it:

  • is distinctive and non-descriptive; and
  • can distinguish your goods or services from your competitors.

Therefore, the number you choose and how you present it must be unique enough to meet these requirements. What defines a distinctive trade mark ultimately depends on: 

  • your specific industry;
  • what terms or trade marks already exist for the goods or services you wish for your trade mark to cover; and
  • the nature of your trade mark itself.

In particular, you may find it difficult to register a number by itself due to a number’s usage in everyday business operations. Your competitors may want to use certain numbers to refer to their goods or services, and you cannot monopolise a certain number’s usage in that way. However, if you can make that number unique to you somehow, that increases its registrability.

For instance, using the number 1001 as part of your logo where the 00s act as graphical eyes may be distinctive enough to represent your business.

We recommend that you seek the aid of a trade mark specialist, who can assess the uniqueness of your number trade mark.

Using a Number Trade Mark

Notably, if you have already been successfully using a number trade mark in New Zealand before registration, you may be able to rely on this fact for your application. This can be useful if IPONZ objects to your initial application for your number trade mark, citing a lack of distinctiveness as part of their reasoning. If you can provide persuasive evidence proving that your customers recognise you by your number trade mark, you may still be able to register it.

Key Takeaways

You can register a number as a trade mark in New Zealand if it is distinctive enough. Your number trade mark must also be capable of distinguishing your goods or services from your competitors. It cannot be identical to or confusingly similar to an existing trade mark.

If you need help with registering your number trade mark, our experienced trade mark lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a trade mark?

A trade mark is a kind of intellectual property right that protects something that identifies your business and the goods or services it provides. Common examples include your business’ name or logo.

Can I register a number as a trade mark?

If your number trade mark is distinctive enough and able to differentiate you from your competitors, you may be able to register it. However, the bar for this is quite high.

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