Trademarks & Design


A Trademark is best described as a distinctive sign or signs identifying the brand of a product(s) or service(s); they may be made up of two- or three-dimensional components such as letters, numbers, words, shapes, logos or pictures, or even sounds. A trademark identifies the brand owner of a product or service.  Trademarks can be used by others under licensing agreements; for example, the Lego Group purchased a license from Lucasfilm to be allowed to launch Lego Star Wars.

What can you Trade Mark?

In Ireland, a Trade Mark must be capable of being represented graphically and distinguishing the goods or services from the goods or services supplied by others. It must not be descriptive nor laudatory. Most Registered Trade Marks tend to be words, phrases, or logos.

Is there such a thing as a Worldwide Trade Mark or a European Trade Mark?

Yes, an International Registration covering many countries may be obtained through the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). Once registered, the International Registration becomes a bundle of national Trade Marks and any objections in relation to the individual National Registrations are handled at a national level.

A single Trade Mark Registration covering the whole of the European Community, known as a Community Trade Mark or CTM, can also be obtained. However, Trade Mark protection is predominantly obtained at a national level, restricting the protection of the mark to the market place of the owner. 

Design Rights

Design protection may be obtained to protect a product’s visual appearance, i.e. its shape, contours or colour, the look or aesthetic of an object.  An example of a well-known design would be the shape of the MAGNUM ice cream which is protected throughout the world by Unilever as a registered design.  In Ireland, protection of design may be obtained through Registered Design, or Unregistered Design Rights.

Registered Designs

The process involved in registering a design in a country involves filing an application for protection at the patents office of that country, prosecuting the application to acceptance, and then attending to the payment of renewal fees every five years to keep the protection in force. In Ireland, Registered Design Protection can last up to 25 years subject to the payment of renewal fees every five years.

In Europe, registered Design Protection may be obtained through the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) by means of a Community Design Registration (CDR) and the protection conferred by a CDR also lasts for up to 25 years provided that renewal fees are paid every five years..

Unregistered Designs

Since 2002, European law has provided for an unregistered design right. This is a form of protection for designs that automatically comes into existence once the design has been put on the market, or otherwise disclosed to the public in the European Community. As it is an unregistered right, there is no need to apply for protection. However, as the term of protection is only three years, it is best suited for the protection of products having short life cycles, such as clothing designs.