A trademark is a distinctive sign which distinguishes the goods or services produced or provided by one enterprise from those of another. Trademarks are words, logos, devices or other distinctive features such as the shape of goods, their packaging, sounds, etc.
Trademarks are normally registered. Nevertheless, in some cases you can get trademark protection simply using the sign on the market (especially in USA, UK, etc.). The owner of a registered trademark is able to object to any use of his trademark by a third party for goods for which it is protected, to the affixing of the mark on such goods, to its use in relation to the goods and to the offering of the goods for sale under the mark, or the use of the mark in advertising, business papers or any other kind of document. Furthermore, since consumers are to be protected against confusion, protection generally extends to the use of similar trademarks for similar goods, if such use is likely to confuse the consumer.
The requirements which a sign must fulfil in order to be registered as a trademark are basically the following:
• Distinctive character: a trademark can not consist of generic or descriptive terms (the word DIESEL can not be registered for fuel, but it is highly distinctive for clothing).
• The second kind of requirement relates to the possible harmful effects of a trademark if it has a misleading character or if it violates public order or morality: a trademark can not consist of deceptive sigs, words or images considered to be contrary to public order or morality, flags or emblems of States, etc.
On the other hand, applications for registration of a trademark could be rejected on “relative grounds” when the trademark is in conflict with prior trademarks or other IP rights.
Once you have registered your mark in the jurisdictions of interest, the rights you enjoy are perpetual if properly maintained. This means that the registration must be renewed, usually every 10 years.
Apart from renewal, in most countries there are other maintenance requirements. For instance, in Europe a registration can be removed from the Register if there has been a prolonged period of non-use. Like many things in life, if you do not use it, you may lose it!