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Trade marks can be a valuable asset for your startup. However, the trade mark registration process can get quite complex if you are not familiar with its functioning. For some guidance, this article will provide some background, and explain whether you should register a trade mark for your New Zealand startup.

What Is a Trade Mark?

As a type of intellectual property right, a trade mark can be a valuable asset for your startup. A unique trade mark serves as a ‘badge of origin,’ linking the goods or services you provide to your business. As a result, customers use them as identifiers. Often, trade marks form important parts of a business’ branding.

For instance, you may have trade mark rights in your business’ logo. You may then use that logo on your product packaging, identifying your business as the source of those goods.

Trade marks can consist of various aspects, such as:

  • words;
  • phrases;
  • slogans;
  • sounds;
  • shapes;
  • colours;
  • symbols; 
  • smells; or 
  • any combination of these.

Trade mark rights can be registered or unregistered. Both provide actionable legal powers, but if you are the registered owner of your trade mark, you have greater legal protection for your property.

Benefits of a Registered Trade Mark

A trade mark can be a sound investment for your startup. It is an asset that can both improve your reputation and become more valuable as your business grows. As the official owner of a registered trade mark, you can take advantage of the following benefits:

  • the exclusive right to use your trade mark in New Zealand;
  • the exclusive right to commercialise your trade mark, and license or sell it to others;
  • restrictions on identical or similar trade marks being registered after yours;
  • use of the ® symbol to indicate your registered trade mark rights;
  • legal protection against those who would try to copy your brand;
  • a way to distinguish your business from others;
  • an additional asset if you decide to sell your business;
  • the ability to pursue third parties for trade mark infringement;
  • increasing value over time as your startup becomes more established; or
  • a record of your official trade mark ownership on a national public register.

There are various ways that you can profit from your trade mark that only increase as your startup’s reputation grows. A good trade mark can leave a lasting impression on your customers, ensuring that your business is the first in their mind when they need the goods or services you provide.

Should You Register a Trade Mark For Your Startup?

Registering a trade mark guarantees you actionable rights over whatever you decide to register. Notably, these rights can last indefinitely if you maintain your trade mark appropriately. However, as a startup, your initial business setup is crucial. Registering a trade mark now means that you can grow its value, but you have to be careful that you choose something appropriate to register. Registering a trade mark also comes with regular fees, so this is something else that you need to consider.

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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What Should You Register?

In particular, there are crucial aspects of your business that you should protect however you can. These are the identifiers that are unique to you. As such, if a competitor were to copy one of these elements of your startup, this could confuse customers and draw them away. Such elements may include:

  • your business name;
  • your logo; or
  • a slogan.

Ensure that you pick something distinctive to register as a trade mark, as this will be easier to maintain and protect against trade mark infringement as time goes on. 

For instance, Microsoft chose “Windows” as the trade mark for its operating system early on. For a user interface, this is a descriptive word fundamental to the functioning of a graphical system, so it lacks distinctiveness. This fact resulted in various legal issues down the line for Microsoft.

How to Register a Trade Mark

In New Zealand, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) manages trade mark registration. Therefore, you can submit your application through their online portal. The registration process involves various steps, including:

  • defining the exact nature of your trade mark;
  • conducting a trade mark search to determine whether any identical or similar trade marks already exist;
  • choosing the goods or services that you want your trade mark to protect;
  • classifying those goods or services into their corresponding classes;
  • paying the necessary fees for trade mark registration;
  • listing the owner of your trade mark;
  • submitting your application through IPONZ’s online portal;
  • waiting for their response; and
  • handling any objections or issues that arise in a compliance report.

A trade mark specialist can help you with this process.

Key Takeaways

A trade mark links your startup to the goods or services that you provide. As a result, it is a significant identifier for your customers and an asset that can increase in value over time. Therefore, we recommend that you register a trade mark for your startup.

If you need help with registering a trade mark for your startup, 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 an intellectual property right to protect signs that distinguish your business from others. These usually form a part of your brand, such as your business name or logo.

Should I register a trade mark?

A registered trade mark can protect your business’ unique signifiers. Customers use these to identify and remember your business, so it may be worthwhile to register a trade mark.

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