- What is a trademark
- What can be registered as a trademark
- Types of trademark: the collective trademark
- A trademark for each product
- Territorial validity
- The validity requirements of the trademark
- The exclusive rights of the holder of the trademark
- Registration, duration and renewal
- Unregistered marks
- Domain names
The main function of the trademark is that of the “origin” since, thanks to the trademark, the origin of a product or of a service of a certain company is recognized. The trademark serves also to spread and increase the reputation of an entrepreneur and the trust on the part of the purchaser.
Why to register a trademark?
Often the trademark attracts more than the product itself and consumers trust the trademark before trying a new product. Merchandising is an evident example of how a trademark, born with the primary function of indicating the origin of a good or service, becomes an autonomous asset of great value.
For those who initiate an activity, to register their own trademark has a strategic importance which is really relevant, it increases the reputation and allows to put in the safe a good destined to increase its economic value in an exponential measure. It is not casual that in company assignments the trademark often represents the most important and most desired asset.
Art. 7 IPC (Industrial Property Code) states that the following can be registered as a trademark in Italy:
all signs that are susceptible of being represented graphically, in particular words, including the names of persons, drawings, letters, numbers, sounds, the form of the product or of the package thereof, chromatic combinations or tonalities, provided they are suitable to distinguish the products or the services of a company from those of other companies.
In particular, the mark is a sign which can be graphically represented by:
Or a combination of them
Nevertheless, regarding the possibility of registering as a trademark the name of a person, the various national regulations often put limits of different nature. As per the Italian regulations, art. 8 IPC foresees that the name of a person that is different from the name of the person who applies for the registration of a trademark can be registered on condition that it does not damage the fame, the credit or the decorum of the person who is entitled to carry such a name. However, if these names belong to famous people, they can only be registered by those famous people, or with their consent.
Particularly complex to register and defend during a legal action, but often very useful to stop the imitative effect of competitors on historical products of a company, are shape marks.
Shape marks consist of the shape of a product that has to be such as to render the product recognizable also without the addition of another mark. Above all, it has to be a shape that does not “require” an explanation of technical reasons.
Art. 9 IPC in fact foresees that
The following cannot constitute object of registration as a company trademark: the signs consisting exclusively of the shape imposed by the nature itself of the product, by the shape of the product necessary to obtain a technical result, or by the shape that gives a substantial value to the product.
An analogous norm exists also in the Regulations on the Community trademark. To determine when a shape “gives a substantial value to the product” is a complex question that is often discussed in courtrooms.
The trademarks that we are acquainted with and that we mostly talk about also in these pages are company trademarks, which identify, precisely, the goods or the services of a company.
There exists, however, a particular type of trademark that has the function of guaranteeing the origin, the nature or the quality of certain goods or services and that can be registered only by entities that have an analogous function. The most common case is that of the Consortiums that register a collective mark and then allow the companies that respect certain requirements to use it, thus guaranteeing consumers the quality and the characteristics of certain goods or services.
In order to obtain a collective mark, it is necessary to follow a specific procedure and in particular in the application phase “rules” on the use of the mark have to be filed which will guarantee an equal treatment and controls on the use of the mark by the person who applies for the registration thereof.
It is good to know that registering a trademark does not mean to monopolize in an absolute way the use of the sign or of the word chosen, impeding others to use it in any way. The trademark actually confers its holder the right to use it in an exclusive way only for those goods or services of his interest that will have to be accurately indicated in the application and for those goods or services that can be considered similar.
For this it is important to make your consultant understand well what wants to be protected and for what the mark wants to be used so as to allow the best possible identification of the goods or services to protect. In case a company later widens its own activity, further trademark registrations might be necessary to allow the best possible protection.
An Italian mark has effected only in Italy with the consequence that any person could register the same mark outside Italy and claim exclusive rights in these territories.
If the protection of the mark is required in one or more foreign countries, it will be necessary to register the mark individually on the selected countries or chose the Community Trademark which allows to protect the mark in all the states of the European Union or the International Trademark, which allows to protect the mark on a remarkable number of states worldwide.
NEW – The trademark is new when there do not exist identical or similar marks, or very widely used ones, already registered for the same goods or services that the mark is going to distinguish. Therefore, before choosing to adopt a mark it is good rule to do a search to check that the sign chosen is not already in use at least for goods or services similar to those that want to be offered. It is always not new the mark that is identical to a known mark even if it was to be used for goods or services different from those distinguished by the mark, since in that case the known mark has what is called a “multi-product/service group” protection. The classic example is the “Coca-Cola” Trademark, worldwide known also by those who do not drink the famous beverage.
LICIT – A mark has to be also licit and therefore not to offend others or the sense of “good behavior”, but above all it has to be provided with distinctive character.
DISTINTIVE CHARACTER – A sign is provided with distinctive character when it is able to identify in immediate way products or services of an enterprise with regard to those of another enterprise. To achieve this result, it is recommended to choose as much as possible an invented sign or word.
Conceptual words own a very different meaning from the good or service that distinguish and are generally those who characterize strong marks, i.e. provided with greater distinctive character and validly defendable against infringement.
Trademarks that somehow contain words that make understand what good or service is referred to, when they can be registered, are anyway considered weak and therefore more easily imitated by competitors.
Obviously, it is never allowed to file applications for trademarks that coincide with the name of such a good or service.
Sometimes a sign that is born weak can become a mark validly defendable if after the use that has been made of it has acquired distinctive character. It is the so-called “secondary meaning”.
On the contrary, a mark that is born as distinctive but becomes, after the use thereof, a generic name referred to a good can lose its protective force by the effect of the so-called “vulgarization”.
The mark can never be misleading. A mark cannot therefore contain words making imagine that the product may contain ingredients or own qualities that actually it does not own. Such a mark would in fact be considered “deceptive”, i.e. misleading and as such it would be invalid.
In particular, as clearly foreseen by art. 20 IPC,
The holder has the right to ban third parties, except by giving his own consent, to use in the economic activity:
a) a sign identical to the mark for goods or services identical to those for which it has been registered;
b) a sign identical or similar to the registered mark, for goods or services identical or similar, if due to the identity or similarity between the signs and to the identity or affinity between the goods or services, a risk of confusion for the public can be created, which can consist also of a risk of association of the two signs;
c) a sign identical or similar to the registered mark, for goods or services also not similar, if the registered mark has a state of fame and if the use without a fair cause allows to profit unduly from the distinctive character or from the fame of the mark or damages the same.
Therefore, the identity of marks and goods/services is never admitted, while in case there is similarity it is necessary to check if there exists a risk of confusion. In case the mark is very famous the use thereof is never admitted, also for goods or services that are different when the person who uses the mark profits unduly from the fame of the pre-existing mark or somehow damages it.
The rights are valid from the filing date of the first application for registration of the mark and last 10 years, at the expiry of which it is possible to renew the mark for further 10 years by filing a renewal application.
Art. 19 IPC foresees that
1. The registration of a company trademark can be obtained by a person who uses it or proposes to use it, in the manufacturing or commerce of goods or in the provision of services of the own company or of companies of which he has the control or that make use thereof with his consent.
2. The registration of a company trademark cannot be obtained by a person who has filed the application in bad faith.
Therefore, a registered trademark can be obtained even after using it on condition that it is proposed to be used in a reasonable period of time, which the Italian law has stipulated within 5 years as from registration date.
As foreseen by art. 24 IPC, a mark has to be used within five years as from the registration “under penalty of expiry”.
Therefore, the person that does not use the mark for five consecutive years after the registration risks to lose it, above all if any other person proceeds with the registration of that mark in turn. The law foresees some exceptions to this rigid rule but they are very limited, therefore it is good to use the mark to keep it alive.
In the same way, a valid mark can expire, a null mark, on the contrary, can “become valid” or be validated. This happens when the holder of a pre-existing mark has omitted to initiate legal actions against the holder of a subsequent mark, of which he knew the existence, and five years have passed from the date of registration of the subsequent mark.
This is basically the only hypothesis in which two marks, also identical, can coexist and be both valid.
Apart from the registered trademark, in our regulations there exists also the “unregistered” mark, which is a mark used without having been registered.
The experience shows that registering a mark is very convenient both because of the reduced costs and because of the huge practical and economic advantages that derive from such a registration. Nevertheless, the unregistered mark implies some kind of protection but can be defended in a court action on condition that it is shown, with sufficient proof, that that mark, even if not registered, has been widely used in the territory so as to have acquired a certain fame. The proof will have to be furnished by who wants to defend that mark through the exhibition of sales invoices but above all of newspaper articles, advertising campaigns and all that can be useful to show the diffusion thereof. Sometimes it becomes necessary also to conduct a specialized opinion poll on the knowledge that consumers have of the mark.
With the registered mark, this is not necessary, since it will be enough to show to have obtained the registration of the mark to ask for the protection thereof.
The domain name is the Internet address through which a site can be reached (our domain name, for example, is “ufficiobrevetti.it”, to which the related website is linked).
On the other hand, the holder of a mark can impede others to use that mark as a domain name and, if the assumptions exist, he can also recover the Internet domain name of his own interest and have it assigned to himself.