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8 Trade Mark Protection Tips for Non-Profit Organisations

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Like all other business types, New Zealand’s non-profit organisations can benefit from adequate trade mark protection. In fact, trade mark protection can help protect both the brand identity and mission of a New Zealand non-profit organisation. This article will take you through eight trade mark protection tips for your non-profit organisation. 

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1. Understand the Importance of Trade Marks for Non-Profits

Non-profit organisations can and should protect the signs that make them distinguishable in the non-profit space. For example, your non-profit likely has an important:

  • name; 
  • logos; 
  • slogan or mission; and 
  • any other key identifiers. 

Trade mark registration provides you with the exclusive right to use your non-profit’s name, logo or slogan. This means that if another non-profit misuses your trade mark without your permission, you have the opportunity to enforce your legal rights.  

Trade mark protection is even more critical for non-profits to enhance their visibility and foster trust in the community regarding their mission.

2. Conduct Comprehensive Trade Mark Searches

You must conduct thorough trade mark searches to ensure there are no existing registrations or conflicting uses of your trade mark before settling on it. You should:

  • utilise the tools and resources provided by the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ); and 
  • consider consulting with a trade mark professional to navigate the complexities of the search process.
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3. Choose Distinctive and Unique Marks

You should select distinctive and unique marks to reduce the likelihood of conflicts with existing trade marks. This not only facilitates registration but also strengthens brand recognition. This is particularly important for non-profit businesses, where the business model primarily relies on recognition and trust from the public to succeed.

4. Register Trade Marks with IPONZ

Once you have chosen distinctive elements for your brand, you must register them with the IPONZ. Registration provides legal protection and establishes your exclusive rights to use the registered trade marks in connection with your non-profit’s services. 

An essential component of this process is selecting suitable trade mark classes. For example, a non-profit organisation operating in the field of affordable housing may choose to register their mark under:

  • class 37, which covers building construction and repair; and
  • class 45, which covers social services.

Working with a trade mark lawyer can help ensure you select the suitable classes for your organisation to give your trade marks the adequate protection they need.

5. Consider International Protection

Many non-profit organisations operate beyond national boundaries. For example, your organisation might be just one chapter of a much larger organisation. If your non-profit operates beyond New Zealand or plans to expand internationally, you should consider extending its protection to other countries. This can be done:

  • via the Madrid System; or 
  • by filing directly in each country you are interested in operating in.

6. Monitor and Enforce Your Rights

You should be sure to regularly monitor the market for any unauthorised use of your trade marks. You must act promptly against any infringements to protect your non-profit’s integrity. This vigilance can help maintain the distinctiveness of your brand.

Failure to swiftly act on the unauthorised use of your trade mark may lead to issues with your brand reputation. Damage to reputation can be extremely harmful to non-profits in particular. Non-profits rely heavily on public trust and credibility to fulfil their missions. Damage to reputation can lead to distrust amongst donors, volunteers and corporate sponsors, leading to severe consequences for non-profits.

7. Educate Staff and Volunteers

You must be sure to educate your non-profit’s staff and volunteers about the importance of trade mark protection. This includes ensuring they understand which trade marks they can use on what promotional materials. 

One way to ensure effective communication among staff and volunteers is to create and implement trade mark usage policies. These policies can help maintain consistency and prevent misuse. All relevant parties should be able to access this policy easily.

8. Be Mindful of Licensing Agreements

Finally, you should carefully structure any licensing agreements your non-profit enters into with third parties. These agreements should be structured to maintain control over the use of your marks. You should carefully define and monitor these agreements with your non-profit’s reputation in mind.

Key Takeaways

Trade mark protection can help protect a non-profit organisation’s brand identity and mission. Some essential trade mark protection tips for non-profit organisations in New Zealand include:

  • understanding the importance of trade marks for non-profits;
  • conducting comprehensive trade mark searches;
  • choosing distinctive and unique marks;
  • registering your marks;
  • considering international protection;
  • monitoring and enforcing your rights;
  • educating staff and volunteers; and
  • being mindful of licensing agreements.

If you need assistance registering a trade mark for your New Zealand non-profit organisation, 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.

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