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There are various intellectual property matters involved in app development. One of these relates to trade marks and how they can protect your interests as an app developer. For some guidance, this article will explain how trade marks can protect your app.

What is a Trade Mark?

Trade marks are valuable assets that can protect your app against third parties who attempt to copy your work. They are a kind of intellectual property right, which means owning one can grant you certain legal powers. Trade marks are signs that can represent your business and can include elements like:

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

You can use a trade mark as part of your app’s branding strategy, as customers will use them to identify your business. A trade mark acts as a “badge of origin”, linking your business to the goods or services you provide. In this case, it can link your business to your app.

For example, you could have trade mark rights protecting your app’s logo. Customers recognise your app by that logo and associate your business with it. Therefore, this is an important marketing asset that you should protect appropriately.

A good trade mark is unique and not descriptive. You want to choose something memorable that differentiates you from your competitors. That way, you can avoid customers confusing other apps for your own.

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 Are the Benefits of Trade Marks?

As the above paragraph describes, trade marks can afford you many benefits. However, you can only take advantage of many of these if you are the registered owner of your trade marks.

Trade marks can be registered or unregistered in New Zealand. However, it is much easier to prove your ownership rights with a registered trade mark, and there are more benefits for you as the owner.

Accordingly, the benefits of owning a registered trade mark include:

  • the exclusive right to use, sell, and license your trade mark in New Zealand;
  • the exclusive right to commercialise your trade mark in New Zealand;
  • ongoing legal protection, renewable every ten years;
  • restrictions on similar or identical trade marks being registered after yours;
  • a way to distinguish yourself against your competitors;
  • increasing value over time as your reputation and goodwill grow;
  • use of the ® symbol to represent your brand and corresponding rights;
  • an official record of your trade mark ownership on the national register; and
  • the ability to pursue third parties for trade mark infringement.

In an over-saturated app market, brand recognition is critical. Therefore, these benefits can protect your brand and ensure your customers can distinctly remember your app.

How Can Trade Marks Protect My App?

Generally, trade marks cannot protect the software content of your app itself, including its source code. There are other intellectual property rights you can rely on for that, such as copyright protection.

However, trade marks can protect other important branding aspects of your app. These can include:

  • app icons;
  • app logos;
  • your app name;
  • certain words, phrases, or slogans unique to your app; or
  • characters or distinctive images you use in your app.

If you make up words or design images as part of app development, and they do not just describe your app’s functionality, you may be able to register these signs as trade marks. 

For instance, “Apple” is a registered trade mark for the computer company and a recognisable part of its branding.

With trade mark protection, if third parties attempt to copy your branding, or use something similar, you have powers available to stop them. In some cases, their actions can amount to trade mark infringement. This fact can be a powerful deterrent to would-be copycats of your app. Additionally, with provable registered trade mark rights, you can request that Apple and Google take infringing apps off their respective stores.

Registering a Trade Mark in New Zealand

Registering a trade mark in New Zealand is a relatively straightforward process, but one that you need to be diligent about. The process includes:

  • conducting a trade mark search to determine whether identical or confusingly similar trade marks exist already;
  • Identifying the  owner of your trade mark;
  • defining the different elements of your trade mark;
  • choosing the goods or services your trade mark registration will cover;
  • classifying those goods or services into their relevant categories;
  • paying the relevant trade mark fees; and
  • submitting your application to the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) via their web portal.

Key Takeaways

Trade marks can protect different aspects of your brand, like your logo or app name. Customers identify you through these, so they are valuable assets for your business. Therefore, registering your trade marks with IPONZ and gaining the relevant protections can greatly benefit you.

If you need help with trade marks in your app, 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 protectable intellectual property relating to signs representing your business. Common trade marks include business names or logos.

Should I register trade marks to protect my app?

Trade marks can protect different aspects of your app that relate to its branding, such as your company logo or the app icon. These are how customers recognise your app, so it may be wise to register trade marks protecting these signs.

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