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How significant is the good name, image and branding of your non-profit organisation? Can your organisation prevent others trading off of its reputation?
For most not-for-profits (NFPs), their brand and associated reputation is their most important asset. As such, how can NFPs protect this valuable asset? The answer is simple: by registering a trade mark.
A Leading NFP
NFPs, like other corporations, benefit from strong branding and trade mark protection. For example, research by the Salvation Army reveals that their Red Shield logo is recognised by 92 per cent of the Australian public.
The Salvation Army protects this significant reputation with over 60 pending and registered trade marks in Australia.
What is a Trade Mark?
A trade mark is a distinctive sign which identifies certain goods or services as those produced or provided by a specific person or company. You’ll commonly see names and logos as trade marks, however even shapes, sounds and scents can be protected as trade marks!
The origin of trade marks dates back to ancient times, when craftsmen reproduced their signatures, or “marks” on their artistic or utilitarian products. Today’s expanded system of trade mark registration and protection assists consumers to identify, assess and acquire products and services based on their distinctive trade marks.
Trade Marks in Australia
In order to obtain trade mark registration in Australia, an application must be made with IP Australia. Registration is based on an international system of ‘classes’, with 45 classes covering countless goods and services. For example, charitable services can be covered, as can sales, marketing and advertising.
An organisation simply needs to think about how it uses trade marks; its name, logo, catch phrases, program names and any other distinctive identifiers of its business. The organisation should also think about how and when it uses these. Once a complete list is established the relevant marks can be applied for. Upon registration, the organisation is able to confidently use the mark in relation to any of the protected goods and services, and know that it can enforce its rights to prevent others from using the same or similar mark for the same or similar goods and services.
One of the most frequent questions asked by NFPs is if the registration of a trade mark is really necessary if an organization already has a business, company or domain name registered. The answer is a definite “yes”.
Although the latter are valuable commercial tools, they do not offer real protection of intellectual property rights. Only trade marks offer enforceable proprietary rights in relation to a name or a logo. Registration of a trade mark gives the owner exclusive use of the mark for the goods and services for which it was registered, and using the mark with the exclusive ® symbol cautions others that the mark is protected!
While there is no compulsory legal requirement to register a trade mark, failure to do so could result in an organisation losing its rights to trade under a name, or having its rights and reputation weakened from use by others. Registering a mark makes protecting and enforcing rights over it much easier and potentially saves a great deal of time, money and uncertainty down the line.
5 Top Trade Mark Tips for NFPs
Following are our top 5 tips for NFPs in relation to trade marks:
1) Search: Before adopting a name or other trade mark search the IP Australia online trade marks database; considering variations in spelling, spacing, and word order. Of course, a comprehensive clearance search should be done as well, as someone using a similar mark prior to you in a related or competing industry, even if they do not have a registration, is a significant potential problem.
2) Register: Look to register your valuable trade marks. Seek legal advice to ensure that your mark is not descriptive and that the organisation is protecting goods and services that are relevant and precise. Whilst the application process can be straightforward, the task of describing the list of goods and services to register can be tricky, particularly for the types of services that many NFPs offer.
3) Use and Renew: Make sure the trade mark is used and renewed. A registered trade mark can “live forever” provided it is in active use and is renewed every ten years.
4) Monitor: Monitor the market and your competitors. It is in your interest to know what’s going on around you and your trade mark. You should stay aware of new and existing trade marks being used in your industry. You can start by checking IP Australia’s online database for new trade marks being lodged.
5) Enforce: Be prepared to protect your trade mark. A trade mark is a personal property right, which means it is your responsibility to take action to protect it. If you think someone is infringing on your trade mark rights, you should seek legal advice from an IP professional as soon as you can.
In a society where image and reputation is vital to the success of any business or organisation, a registered trade mark is an essential tool in protecting the status and character of your organisation.