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Brainstorming a new brand or product name is exciting! Branding has a substantial impact on how your target market interacts with your new product or service. A great name can make all the difference between a good brand and an iconic one.

Registering a new name as a trade mark is an important step in protecting your brand. But trade mark registers around the world are increasingly crowded and it’s getting harder to choose a brand name that isn’t already taken. Read on to learn more about some of the intellectual property issues to bear in mind as you consider potential brand names.

Make your brand stand out from the rest

A key feature of a registrable trade mark is that it’s not descriptive of your product. This is because it would be unfair to give one trader a monopoly in a word or phrase that describes multiple products.

Think about a new lip balm product. You wouldn’t be able to register HYDRATION as a trade mark for your lip balm, otherwise other businesses couldn’t promote the ‘hydration’ qualities of their lip balms. If you wanted to sell the hydration aspect of your product, you could instead:

  • Create a brand name that hints at the idea of being hydrating. For example, DEW DROPS or LIQUIDITY.
  • Use a made up word with a descriptive one, like HYDRASALVE or INTESSIO HYDRATION. Invented words may be harder to market initially, but these make for the strongest trade marks long-term (think Google, Fonterra, Adidas, Pixar, Vodafone).
  • Use a person’s name e.g. SARAH JAMES HYDRATION.
  • Regular words which have no meaning in the context of the products also make very effective brands (think Apple for computers, Amazon for online retailing, and Sky for television). For a lip balm, such brands could be WHITE DAISY or PEACHES.

Consider export markets

If you might want to take your brand overseas, it’s worth thinking about this early on. A name that works well in New Zealand might not work in a non-English speaking country like China. Think about whether your brand is easy to pronounce, and if it could have adverse meanings in another language.

Come up with a few options

You might have a favourite, but from an IP perspective it’s better to have back-up brand names when you’re undertaking a branding project. Your options could be variations on a theme, or completely different names. Checking a short list of potential names with your IP lawyer is smart—they can check for any issues with your possible brand names. Having back-up names means you won’t need to go back to the drawing board if your name is descriptive, or someone has beaten you to an application for the same or a similar name.

Searching before applying for a trade mark

Once you’ve come up with a few options, it’s important to get an IP lawyer to do a search of the trade marks register and the market to check if the name is available. Investing some money up-front to carry out trade mark searches in the countries you are interested in will save you time and money in the long run. As well as assessing registrability, trade mark searches are useful to tell you whether you might be infringing another trade mark if you begin to use your new brand name. One of the worst issues for a new business or brand is an intellectual property dispute. Getting proper searches done helps avoid wasted time, money, energy, and confused customers. It’s false economy to cut corners when your brand is such an important asset. So, what’s in a name? Well… possibly everything!

Key points

  • Be creative with your brand names.
  • Come up with several options during the creative process.
  • Choose something that will be registrable as a trade mark.
  • Think about where your business might be going several years from now, including in overseas markets.
  • Get your IP lawyer involved early to save money later.

This article was written by Emma Sherratt, a Solicitor in Kensington Swan’s Intellectual Property team.



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