European and international trade marks

What is a trade mark?

Bill Russell is Head of Bilateral Relations at the UK Intellectual Property Office, the official government body responsible for intellectual property (IP) rights in the United Kingdom. 

What is a trade mark? How does it differ to a brand?

A trade mark distinguishes the goods and services of one trader from those of another. Many people refer to their trade mark as their brand, although a brand is more than just a company’s logo.

A brand is a ‘promise of an experience’ and conveys to consumers a certain assurance as to the nature of the product or service they will receive. Intellectual property rights provide legal protection for some of the most important aspects of a brand. You can read our A,B,C of online branding and our guide to intellectual property abroad for more information.

A trade mark can be a word, a phrase, a picture, and can even be a shape, colour, sound, aspect of packaging or any combination of these. You can use your trade mark as a marketing tool so that customers can recognise your products or services.

How do I use my trade mark abroad?

If you want to use your trade mark in countries other than the UK, you can apply to the trade mark office in each country.

However, European and international application systems also exist.

Both cover many countries, including the UK, and offer other potential benefits including:

  • less to pay
  • less paperwork
  • lower agents’ costs
  • faster results
  • easy application

European trade mark protection

If you want trade mark protection in countries which are members of the European Union (EU), you can apply for a Community Trade Mark (CTM) through the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM), based in Alicante, Spain. You can also file your application through the UK Intellectual Property Office, but they will charge you a £15 handling fee.

International trade mark protection

You can apply to register your trade mark in countries which have signed-up to an agreement, called the ‘The Madrid Protocol’.

The Madrid Protocol is controlled by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), based in Geneva, Switzerland. Their website provides a list of member countries that an international application can cover.

An International application must be based on an existing trade mark application, or registration, in one of the member countries. If you apply through the UK office, your international application must be identical to your UK trade mark application or registration. You can file your International application at the same time as you make your UK application, or later if you wish.

If you have made an application for a CTM at OHIM, or have a registered CTM, you can use that as a basis for an international mark. However, you must then make the application for that mark through OHIM. The forms and fees are on OHIM’s website.

You can also use your UK trade mark application to claim priority when applying for an international trade mark provided this is within 6 months. This means that your later application will be treated as if you applied on the same date as in the UK.

You can only apply for a single mark, as the international system does not allow for a series of marks, as we do in the UK.

For more information about managing trade marks overseas visit the Intellectual Property Office web site.

You can download a personalised report detailing how to protect your trade mark in the UK and overseas by using the IP Health Check tool from the Intellectual Property Office.

You can also read Open to Export’s article on protecting your business online for more information.

Countries: Europe
Topics: Protecting IP Abroad
Export Action Plan