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An e-commerce business is one where you can sell products, goods or services online. They have become increasingly popular with the rise of online shopping. If you are starting or improving your business, whether it is a smaller side business or a large business, there are common trade mark mistakes to look out for. Putting your business online means that it is accessible to anyone who has the internet. This is an advantage for your business because you can reach a wider market, but it presents trade mark risks as well. Common trade mark mistakes e-commerce businesses make include:

  • not registering or validating trade marks;
  • not labelling trade marks; and 
  • not managing trade marks.

This article will step you through each of these common mistakes and explain how to avoid them.

What Is a Trade Mark?

A trade mark is an intellectual property tool that allows you to distinguish your goods or services from others in the same market. You can trade mark a word, logo, shape, smell, colour, sound or any combination of these. When you have a trade mark, you have a number of intellectual property rights over your work. These are:

  • exclusive rights to use and benefit from your intellectual property;
  • the power to determine who else can use or benefit from your intellectual property;
  • legal protection; and
  • guaranteed originality.

Trade marks are looked after by the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ). 

Mistake #1: Not Registering or Validating Your Trade Mark

The first trade mark mistake an e-commerce business can make is not registering or validating its intellectual property. This is a mistake because other people will not know that the goods and services are original and yours. They may not think your work belongs to you and, therefore, copy or share your work without your permission. Additionally, you may have no legal protection because you did not register or validate your trade mark. You can either have a registered or unregistered trade mark.

Registered Trade Marks

The best way to protect your intellectual property is to register it through IPONZ. You can complete the registration process online on the IPONZ website. Your trade mark must be original and distinct from other trade marks in your market to be approved. After completing the online application, you will receive a response from IPONZ within 15 working days. 

One tip to achieve the best outcome of your application to IPONZ is to use their trade mark search tool. With this tool, you can search all existing trade marks that IPONZ has registered. The search will show you trade marks that are the same or similar to yours. This will allow you to see how original your work is before you apply.

Unregistered Trade Marks

An unregistered trade mark is very similar to a registered trade mark, except that it is not formally registered with IPONZ. It grants you the same rights and protections as having a registered trade mark. However, it must meet higher standards to be a valid unregistered trade mark and is harder to protect if someone infringes on your rights. To be a valid unregistered trade mark, your trade mark must:

  • have acquired a substantial reputation in your market; and 
  • be unique enough for customers to identify it from other businesses.

It is always preferable to register your trade mark, as this will guarantee your protection rights.

Mistake #2: Not Labelling Your Trade Mark

Once your trade mark has been registered or is valid, you can label it so that others are aware. A common trade mark mistake e-commerce businesses make is not labelling their trade mark material. This defeats the purpose of having a registered or unregistered trade mark because you still risk others not knowing that the content is trade marked. 

To avoid this, you can label registered trade marks with the ® symbol, and you can label unregistered trade marks with the ™ symbol.

Mistake #3: Not Managing Your Trade Mark

Another common mistake e-commerce businesses make is not managing their trade marks. After you have established your trade mark in your business, it is your responsibility to maintain it and protect it. You can renew a trade mark every ten years. It is important to do this because if you do not, another business may register a trade mark the same or similar to yours. The best way to maintain your trade mark is to be vigilant about other businesses in your market. You can keep an eye out for any other works that seem similar to yours. If you think someone has infringed your trade mark rights, you may wish to take legal action. In this situation, it is best to seek legal advice.

You can maintain secrecy about your trade mark or surrounding works and set clear boundaries with those who work with you when it comes to your intellectual property. One way to do this is with a licence agreement.

Key Takeaways

There are three common trade mark mistakes that e-commerce businesses make. They are:

  • not registering or validating trade marks;
  • not labelling trade marks; and 
  • not managing trade marks.

There are steps you can take to remedy these mistakes and protect your intellectual property. If you require any assistance with trade marks in your e-commerce business, LegalVision’s experienced intellectual property lawyers can help. Contact us on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a licence agreement?

A licence agreement is a contract between an intellectual property owner and another to allow the other party to use the intellectual property. It has no impact on the ownership of intellectual property.

How much does it cost to register a trade mark?

The cost of registering a trade mark is $100 per class you register it with.

How long does trade mark registration last?

Trade mark registration lasts 10 years before you need to renew it.

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