As a business owner, you know the power of a solid brand identity. When your customers recognize your company’s logo, tagline, or jingle, it creates a sense of familiarity — an important element in building loyalty. But how do you protect the brand image you’ve worked so hard to build? That’s where trademarks come in.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark is a combination of text, designs, or audio that represents your brand or the products and services you sell. It’s what sets you apart from other companies in your marketplace. When your company has a trademark, it means that you have the sole legal right to use it. In other words, your competitors can’t legally take your trademark and use it for their own business. A trademark is your intellectual property and it protects your company from people who might want to counterfeit your products or services.
Your business can have more than one trademark. The Royal Bank of Canada, for example, has multiple trademarks. One is for the word mark for the phrase “Royal Bank of Canada”. The bank also has a design mark for its signature lion and globe design with the letters “RBC” underneath.
Other things it’s possible to trademark include:
- Names of individual products or services
- Imagery that brands products or services
- Slogans and business taglines
- Distinctive containers or packaging
- Audio used for TV commercials and radio ads.
How do you get a trademark?
There are two ways that you can get a trademark in Canada.
Registered trademark: When you register a trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), you get legal ownership of your words, designs, or sounds. If another company tries to infringe on it, the government sees you as the owner. That gives you the upper hand in any legal cases. Once you register a trademark, it’s good for 15 years.
Unregistered trademark: If you have used your words, designs, or sounds for a specific length of time, the government sees you as the trademark owner under common law. However, if another company tries to use your trademark, it’s up to you to prove your ownership. You might need to demonstrate that you’ve been using your trademark for a significant amount of time. You’d also need to prove that your trademark is so closely associated with your products or services that it stands for your company’s reputation and goodwill with customers.
In most cases, registering your trademark is the easiest and most affordable option. After all, if you need to defend an unregistered trademark in court, it could mean an expensive legal battle.
What to Do Before Trademark Registration in Canada
Before you register a trademark, it’s a good idea to make sure that the CIPO is likely to accept it. The CIPO only allows you to register specific items as trademarks. Under the Trade-marks Act, you can’t register:
- First and last names
- A word that clearly describes your products or services; for example, the CIPO would not accept a trademark for “LED TVs” because “LED” is a clear description that could be used to describe TVs from many different manufacturers
- Words that mislead customers about your products or services
- Words that describe a location that’s commonly associated with your type of goods or services
- Words that come from other languages
- Words, designs, or sounds that look or sound too similar to another registered or pending trademark
- Images or signatures of people who have died within the last 30 years
- Marks that are obscene, immoral, or scandalous, including profanity and racist language or imagery.
Keep in mind that the CIPO may deny trademark registration for other reasons, so it’s a good idea to check the agency’s Goods and Services Manual for the current acceptable terms. In many cases, this due diligence is the most time-consuming part of the registration process. If you need help, you can hire one of the government’s trademark agents.
How to Register a Trademark in Canada
Once you’re sure that your proposed trademark complies with CIPO rules, you can start the trademark registration application. There are two ways to apply. First, you can apply to register a proposed trademark that you plan to start using after registration. Alternatively, you can register an existing trademark that you’re already using. In both cases, you should be ready to provide:
- Your name and address
- A drawing, recording, or text-based representation of the trademark
- An explanation of the goods or services associated with the trademark
Are you already using your trademark? The application asks you to provide the date you first used it. If you’re registering a proposed trademark, you need to explain how you plan to use it. Before you can submit the application, you must pay a fee to the Office of the Registrar of Trademarks. You can complete this process online using the Trademark e-filing application.
Once you file an application, government officials make sure it’s complete. Then, it gets a filing date. If there’s ever a dispute between two pending applications, this date can decide who has the rights to the trademark. When you have a filing date, your trademark appears in the trademark database, so it’s off-limits to other people.
Finally, officials go through your application to make sure your trademark is unique, and that it complies with the Canada Trade-marks Act. During this period, other companies have the opportunity to challenge your application. If there’s a problem, the government contacts you and explains what to do next. If everything flows smoothly, and no one opposes your trademark, you’re granted the registration. You can keep it for 15 years. After that, you can renew it online for a fee.
By registering your company’s trademark, you can protect the name and identity of your company, as well as your products or services. As you go through the research and application process, it’s a good idea to keep track of any fees you pay to the government or a trademark agent. Need help? 4.3 million customers use QuickBooks. Join them today to help your business thrive for free.