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Trade mark rights are a form of intellectual property right that can protect your business’ branding. Your business name is a key identifier for your customers, and they will use it to recognise your goods or services. Therefore, registering your business name as a trade mark with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) can protect your interests. For some guidance, this article will provide some background and discuss whether you should register your business name as a trade mark.

What Is a Trade Mark?

As a type of intellectual property right, trade marks can protect different branding aspects of your business. They act as a “badge of origin”, identifying your business as the source of the goods or services you provide. Therefore, trade marks are often signs that customers use to recognise you and differentiate you from your competitors.

Trade marks can include various elements, such as:

  • words;
  • phrases;
  • symbols;
  • logos;
  • shapes;
  • smells;
  • sounds;
  • colours; or
  • a combination of these.

Accordingly, businesses and other organisations will often register fundamental identifying representations of their business as a trade mark.

For example, if a podcast has a distinctive jingle or slogan as a part of its introduction, they may register this as a trade mark. Podcasts are an audio medium, so these sound trade marks are fundamental for listeners to identify their work.

Given that your business name is an essential way for customers to identify you, it would be worthwhile to consider registering it as a trade mark.

Registered vs Unregistered Trade Marks

Notably, you do not necessarily have to register a trade mark to take advantage of certain rights as its owner. Accordingly, if you use an unregistered trade mark to represent your business, and your customers can recognise you by that trade mark, you may have certain protections if someone copies your brand.

For instance, say that you have operated your grocery business under the name “Galactic Grocers” for a long time. If your customers recognise you by that name, and nobody else uses a similar name for the same products, you may have evidence for unregistered trade mark rights. You can use the ™ mark to indicate these rights. 

However, these protections are not guaranteed. They rely on a very specific factual context, which may not be available to you, depending on your circumstances. Additionally, if someone else is operating with an identical or confusingly similar registered trade mark, they may be able to claim you are infringing on their trade mark rights. With registered rights, they can operate from a stronger legal position, which puts you at a disadvantage. Registering your business name as a trade mark can reduce this uncertainty.

Should I Register a Trade Mark for My Business Name?

The name of your business is essential for differentiating yourself against your competitors. It is a fundamental branding asset that your customers will use to identify you, both in person and digitally. If a third party were to copy your business name or use a name confusingly similar to yours, this could:

  • confuse your customers, leading them to purchase goods or services from others thinking they are yours;
  • negatively impact your reputation and goodwill in the market;
  • associate undesirable characteristics with your brand, such as low-quality products; and
  • reduce your brand’s spread in the country.

With registered trade mark rights, you have legal benefits available to you that can help you avoid these consequences, such as:

  • an official record of your trade mark ownership on the national register;
  • exclusive rights to use and commercialise your trade mark;
  • use of the ® symbol with your trade mark;
  • the ability to pursue third parties for trade mark infringement; and 
  • restrictions on other businesses registering identical or similar names after your own registration.

Registering your business name as a trade mark is a formal recognition of its distinctiveness. This is beneficial for numerous reasons. In particular, you can build a distinctive reputation around your business name and pursue those trying to copy your brand.

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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How Can I Register a Trade Mark for My Business Name?

To register your business name as a trade mark, you can follow IPONZ’s application process. A key part of this is conducting a trade mark search. The purpose of this process is to ensure that no identical or confusingly similar trade marks already exist. For the best chances of successful registration, your business name should:

  • be distinctive;
  • not be descriptive;
  • not be praiseworthy; and
  • not use only terms common to your industry.

Key Takeaways

Your business name is a fundamental identifier for your business. As a result, customers will associate your business name with the goods or services you provide. Therefore, you should take steps to protect this key asset, such as registering it as a trade mark.

If you need help registering your business name as a 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

Can I register my business name as a trade mark?

Trade marks can protect different signs representing your business, including words or logos. Therefore, in many cases, you can register your business name as a trade mark.

What are the benefits of a registered trade mark?

There are numerous benefits to registering your trade mark. Chief among them is that you have an officially recognised record of your ownership, granting you various legal powers to pursue copycats and imitators.

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