Learn about trademarks
A strong brand name and an attractive logo help your company to stand out and to appeal to your customers. But your name and logo are even more than that: they also represent the value of your business on the market - think of big brands and their iconic logos such as Coca-Cola, Apple, etc.
That’s why you want to protect your name and logo to be sure that others won’t benefit from your hard work without your consent. One way to protect what’s yours is by registering your name/logo as a trademark.
Discover more about trademarks in this guide.
- What is a trademark ?
- Why should I register my trademark ?
- What are the requirements to protect my logo and/or product name as a trademark ?
- I want to apply for trademark protection, where do I start ?
- Which products/services should I select for my trademark ?
- In which areas should I protect my name/logo ?
- How long does trademark protection last ?
- How much does it cost to protect a trademark ?
- I have registered my trademark, can I use the ® symbol ?
- What about infringement? How can I avoid it and how do I deal with it ?
Step 1/10 What is a trademark ?
A trademark is a sign (in most cases it is a word, a logo, or a combination of both) that identifies the goods and services as coming from your business. It helps customers to recognise your products or services in a crowded market and differentiate them from your competitors.
Once registered, only you can use your trademark or you can allow others to do so for the products and/or services covered by your registration for a specific area.
Na registratie mag alleen jij je merk gebruiken. Uiteraard kan je wel anderen toestemming geven om jouw merk te gebruiken voor producten en/of diensten die je voor een specifiek gebied hebt geregistreerd.
Step 2/10 Why should I register my trademark ?
Once you have registered your trademark, it will be visible to the public in the trademark register. Companies consulting the register for similar trademarks will see that you already have a legal claim to it.
A trademark registration gives you a monopoly. You are the one and only person who can decide who can use the trademark for the products/services you indicated. Third parties will be able to use it only if you give your permission in exchange for a fee.
If someone uses your trademark without your consent, you will be able to take legal action against them.
You can also sell your trademark, or use it in agreements and licences. Your trademarks thus create financial value.
Step 3/10 What are the requirements to protect my logo and/or product name as a trademark ?
To be eligible for registration, your future trademark needs to meet some legal requirements such as:
- A distinctive name and/or logo
The main goal of a trademark is to inform the customer about the origin of the products and services they’re buying. Clients must be able to instantly identify your trademark and associate it with your company, with no ambiguity regarding your competitors.
For example, a sign such as ‘I love you’ for rings does not allow you to identify the precise origin of the product. If you see this written on a ring, you won’t think about a brand, but more about a tender engraving for a loved one. Therefore it cannot be registered as a trademark.
- The name/logo should not be descriptive
Trademark registration gives you the exclusive usage of a sign (word, logo, etc.), so you can’t use a generic word that indicates the nature of the product or service. Imagine that you want to register the word “burger” for selling your burgers. You are then granted the monopoly on this word and it stops others from using this word anywhere. It is highly inappropriate as this word should remain free for you and your competitors to use.
In order to be distinctive enough and to inform your clients about the origin of what they’re buying from you, your trademark should not be descriptive.
Step 4/10 I want to apply for trademark protection, where do I start ?
To save time and money, prepare your application carefully in advance. Please have these in mind before filing your application:
- Select a distinctive, non-descriptive trademark for the products/services you will offer. The trademark should be able to identify the products/services as coming from your company, but cannot describe your products/services.
- Think about the countries where you want to protect your trademark: your country, Europe or internationally.
- Check that your name/logo does not already exist in the relevant trademark register (Benelux, EU or internationally). You want to avoid a claim from a competitor using the same/similar trademark.
Step 5/10 Which products/services should I select for my trademark ?
When you choose the products and services you want to protect with your trademark, this sets the scope of protection of your rights against your competitors. Your trademark is only protected for the products and services you mention.
Before defining your selection of goods and services, you should take the following into account:
- Remember that you will be required to use your trademark for the products and services mentioned starting five years after its registration. If you do not use a trademark in time, it can be cancelled.
- Once you have selected the products and services, you cannot expand this selection anymore. This will require a new trademark application and thus extra costs.
- All products and services are divided into different categories called ‘classes’. You will pay a fee for each class.
TM Class is an interactive tool that enables you to find which ‘class’ of products and services you can choose when applying for a trademark.
Step 6/10 In which areas should I protect my name/logo ?
This is a strategic business decision: In which countries do you intend to sell your products/services and thus where will you use your trademark? Your country, Europe, several countries at once… You decide!
Registering a trademark costs time, research and money. If your business plan is mainly local, starting in your own country should be enough.
On the other hand, if you know you’ll grow fast and across borders, your research time and investments will increase too. In this case, we highly recommend consulting a specialist in trademark law to get advice on the best strategy of when and where you should register.
Step 7/10 How long does trademark protection last ?
A trademark registration is valid for ten years from the date on which you filed it with the competent trademark office. You can renew your registration for unlimited ten-year periods. This means it is possible to protect your trademark forever, given that you renew it in time.
Step 8/10 How much does it cost to protect a trademark ?
Trademark protection in the Benelux starts at EUR 244 and in Europe at EUR 850 for a ten-year period. Note that depending on the number of classes of products/services that you choose, extra costs may apply.
Protecting your trademark internationally will probably be more expensive. You can estimate the fees you may have to pay using this link.
Mind you, official trademark offices such as BOIP for the Benelux or EUIPO for the EU do not send invoices. Upon filing your trademark application, you will receive confirmation by e-mail. The confirmation is also intended for your administrative records and contains an overview of the payable fees. Scams exist however, so be careful with invoices you may receive, even if they feature a logo. Check everything you may receive regarding your trademark application, registration or renewal very carefully.
Contact your trademark office to authenticate documents in case of a doubt.
Step 9/10 I have registered my trademark, can I use the ® symbol ?
You can use the ® symbol to inform others about your trademark registration and the legal rights associated with it. Although you are not obliged to use the ®, it is a good idea to do so as it will inform competitors of your rights and It will make them think twice before using it without your consent.
Be aware that using the ® in combination with a non-registered trademark, isn’t enough to legally protect your name or logo. Only a trademark registration will give you rights to your name or logo.
There’s only one way to know if a brand is legally protected: the trademark register. If it is not listed, it means the name/logo is NOT protected as a trademark.
Sometimes you’ll see ‘TM’ mentioned. TM can be used to inform others that the specific symbol is used as an identifier of goods, but isn’t registered as a trademark (yet).
Step 10/10 What about infringement? How can I avoid it and how do I deal with it ?
An older name/logo similar to mine already exists, is this a problem?
If you want to protect your name/logo, make sure that no other company has already registered a similar one for the same products and services. You want to avoid infringing someone else’s trademark rights. So it is important to do research on your competitors. Look for names/logos in the area(s) in which you would want to use your trademark.
Here are a few resources to help you:
A more recent name/logo is similar to mine, how can I react?
If someone uses a more recent name/logo similar to your trademark for identical or similar products or services without your permission, you can accuse them of infringement. You can then first try to contact the other party and request that it stops using the conflicting sign. If this does not help, you can go to court to enforce your trademark rights against the infringer.
In case another party has applied to register a trademark that conflicts with or possibly infringes yours, you can also file an opposition against the more recent trademark application. An opposition is a simple and relatively inexpensive procedure to resolve a trademark dispute via the competent trademark office without going to court.
If you discover a trademark infringement, the best course of action is to seek advice from a specialised legal professional, for example via the Benelux association for trademark and design law.
Want to know what to do next or need more information? Our partners can help you!