A company’s value often lies beyond what is written in the financial statements of the company. Intellectual property rights, or IPR, can hold significant commercial value and potential. A company may have IPRs such as patented innovations, copyrights or trademark-protected content such as logos and design rights for a particular product’s external shape.
In this article, we will go over the basics of trademark protection. The article will focus on explaining what a trademark is, how a trademark can be acquired and how they should be used.
What is a trademark?
A trademark gives its owner the exclusive right to use the trademark in certain products or services. A trademark can be a word, symbol or figure, a design or a combination of them. Even colors or sounds can be trademarks. The form of a trademark is not limited – as long as it can be audiovisually presented in a clear and precise manner, it can be a trademark.
Trademarks help consumers to recognize products and services from one another. Moreover, consumers can generally trust that products labelled with a specific trademark originate from the same source. Products labelled with a specific trademark typically indicate a continuum of quality, and consumers can generally trust that products under the same brand are identical in terms of quality.
A trademark differentiates the branded product from all other products of its kind that are on the market and that are later put on the market. Trademarks can specifically be used to identify and showcase ownership of a company’s brand. Once a trademark is registered or established, the owner of the trademark has authority in determining how it is used.
How to obtain and use a trademark
There are two ways to gain trademark protection in Finland: registration and establishment.
A trademark can be registered at the Finnish Patent and Registration Office, and there are two important requirements for the registration to be approved. Firstly, the trademark must be distinctive, meaning that the trademark must include more than just descriptive elements in relation to the products and services it is being registered for. A good example of this is Apple – while a trademark containing the word ‘apple’ for computer and IT products is distinctive, it would not be considered a distinctive trademark for apples.
Secondly, a trademark must not be confusingly similar with earlier trademarks, company names or other rights. A likelihood of confusion might arise if two marks are identical or similar and if the marks cover identical or similar goods or services. Similar or identical trademarks registered for different goods or services can be accepted, however.
A trademark can also be gained through establishment. A trademark becomes established when it is used in one’s business until it is widely known in connection with certain products or services. There are no clear thresholds as to what constitutes an established trademark – establishment requires substantial use and abundant evidence. A court of law can confirm a trademark’s establishment, for example, due to a trademark dispute.
If a company has business operations in one or several EU Member States other than Finland, it would be prudent of them to apply for an EU trademark from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).
How to manage and maintain a trademark
After registering a trademark, a trademark owner has an exclusive right to use it for the products and services it was registered for in Finland or in the EU, depending on the office of registration.
Having exclusive rights to a trademark is only a beginning – the trademark also has to be used correctly, in its registered form, in order for it to remain in force. After five years of non-use, the Finnish Patent and Trade Register (PRH), the Finnish Market Court or EUIPO can revoke the trademark if it has not been used or if it has not been used properly. Proper and genuine use means that the trademark must be used in the exact form registered and for all the products or services it has been registered for.
A trademark registration is valid for 10 years, after which it can be renewed for 10 years at a time.
The benefits of a trademark
In addition to the exclusive right of use, owning a trademark brings multiple business benefits to a company. Consumers are, now more than ever, interested in brands and about what associations brands create. Similarly, investors are becoming increasingly more interested in companies’ soft values, and a socially (or environmentally) conscious brand can be a powerful tool for attracting capital.
Whereas patents and copyrights are basically used to protect the commercial rights of inventors and creators of artistic or literary works, respectively, the basic concept behind a trademark is to prevent unfair competition. In Finland and within the EU, trademark legislation protects the owner of the trademark against competitors and copycats trying to unfairly benefit from your brand identity or using a name or symbol so similar that it could cause confusion among your clients or customers.
In other words, you’ll gain exclusive rights to use your brand and benefit from it.
If you have any questions in regard to registering a trademark or protecting your brand, contact us and let’s talk about your needs. We’re happy to help you out!
Our Associate Trainee Charlotta Grandell took part in writing this article.