Last modified:

Tuesday 11 August 2020

What is a trademark ?

A trademark is a sign used by an enterprise to identify its products or services. Based on this sign, the public is then able to distinguish your goods and services from those that other firms put on the market.

A trademark is 'a sign'. This sign can take on different forms:

  • verbal: many of these words may come to mind (e.g. Spa, Philips), abbreviations, number combinations
  • form based: the form of the product (e.g. the logo of a car manufacturer)
  • combination: verbal and form based (e.g. the style in which the word "Microsoft" is written.)
  • products: Brand names that are associated with a specific product
  • services: Brand names associated with a service (e.g. insurance services, home delivery ....)
  • individual: Using a brand name for a specific product or a specific service
  • collective: Use the same trademark for different products or services (e.g. Woolmark, Groen Punt - Grüne Punkt).

A lot of matters fall within the scope of trademarks

Is your trademark available?

If you want to get a trademark for a sign, it is not sufficient to (initially) use this sign for specific products or services. First and foremost, you must have the sign registered as a trademark for certain categories of products or services.

Before deciding on a trademark application, you need to ensure that your sign meets the protection conditions. Namely:  distinctive features, availability, and acceptability.

And of course, it is also a good idea to find out what other trademarks already exist. There are various ways to do this:

  • You can do a (free) search. All filed and registered trademarks that are valid in the Benelux countries can be found in the Trademark Register.
  • You can fill in the inquiry form and ask the BOIP (at a fee) to find out which older trademarks for certain goods or services exist that may constitute an obstacle for the trademark that you want to register.
  • You can outsource the research to a trademark agent or specialized intellectual property lawyer.

Note: If a trademark is not in the registry, this does not always mean that it is available.

Register your trademark

There exist four options for the registration of a trademark:

  • National: The trademark is registered with the competent authority of a given country. This option can be attractive, especially when you are only active in one country or a few countries outside the Benelux. However, if you are active in several countries, the costs could increase extensively.

  • Benelux trademark: the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP) is the official body for trademark registration in the Benelux. You can register your trademark and protect it by uploading (requesting) your trademark and/or logo online. A standard online trademark application costs 240 euros. The procedure for final trademark registration takes about 3 months. The registration is valid for 10 years. During this period, you have trademark protection. After 10 years, you can renew your registration.

    You can also submit your application via the Belgian Office for Intellectual Property  (OPRI);

  • Union Trademark: you can obtain protection in all countries of the European Union with a single application. When you're operating in (a substantial part of) the EU, this may be an attractive option. Union Trademarks are filed with the EUIPO (Alicante, Spain)
  • International application: you can get protection in more than 90 countries with a single application. If you are active in several countries, this option quickly becomes (much) cheaper than separate national applications. The application is submitted through the agency of the country where the basic registration has been made. In the case of a Benelux trademark, it will be the BOIP.

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