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Article - How to overcome a trademark objection?

By Ricardo Lee & Associates Law Office

Introduction

A trade mark is a sign which distinguishes the goods and services of one trader from those of the others. Registering your trade mark means that you have the exclusive right to use the trade mark regarding the goods and services for the mark is registered and in the registered territories. Trade mark is a form of intellectual property that can be an important asset of a company. The most valuable brand in the world at present is still Apple Inc., which is represented by the half eaten apple mark and is estimated to worth US$183 billion.

The owner of a trade mark can sell the mark just like selling other property with an assignment. The owner can also license its trade mark ownership to different parties in segmented countries or territories for a limited time at the owner’s commercial decision. Simple registration procedures are needed to bring about the legal effect of those changes to the ownership and of formation of licensing relationship.

In the article, the most important stages in the trade mark registration are discussed, together with a brief of the types of trade mark objection commonly encountered by applicant. And, it is always advisable to seek professional advice to help the application get through the objections; and preferably, to help avoid the objections at all possible.

Stages of Trademark Registration

Following the filing of the trade mark application to the Hong Kong Intellectual Property Department (HKIPD), the HKIPD’s examiner will proceed with the deficiency checking. At this stage, the application form is checked for any missing information. The applicant may need to make amendment and provide those missing information. Next, the examiner will look into the substantive side of the application to see if the information complies with the legal requirement and conduct a search of the trade marks records to see if there are conflict marks. If the requirements for registration are not met, HKIPD will send objection to the trade mark applicant who has some months to prepare a proper reply. Decision may be made by the HKIPD through hearing and the applicant has a chance to present his argument and evidence in support of his application. Hong Kong is on the ore efficient side, some countries could take a long process of 2-3 years. Once the HKIPD approves the examination, the mark will be published and accepted for registration if there is no opposition in 3 months.
If the whole application, examination and registration process go smooth without any objection and opposition, it takes as fast as 6 months from application to registration.

It should be noted that even after the trade mark owner obtain the mark, the owner has to renew the trade mark every 10 years, otherwise the mark will expire.

Common Types of Trademark Objection

As a trade mark objection may significantly lengthen the whole trade mark application process, it is worthwhile to spend effort to investigate the grounds of objection in order to avoid any possible objections. The most common types of the trade mark objection in Hong Kong are the absolute ground of refusal and relative ground of refusal. They are discussed below.

Mark Not Qualified as Trade Mark

If the trade mark is not regarded as a qualified trade mark, i.e. the mark is not a sign which could perform the function of identifying goods marked with it as coming from the control of the same undertaking, then the mark will likely be objected. Example of this kind of sign includes a mark of apple image for the good apple.

Non-Distinctive Mark

A mark is likely to be considered by HKIPD as non-distinction if an average consumer, without being educated of the connection of the mark to the trade origin, cannot guarantee that all goods bearing the mark come from the control of the same undertaking. Thus, mark such as “For You” that in no way associates with the applicant’s line of business could be regarded as non-distinctive.

Descriptive Mark

If the trade mark contains sign that consists exclusively of descriptive material to the goods or services of the trade, the mark will likely be considered by HKIPD as descriptive mark and hence objected by the HKIPD. An important reason for objection is to forbid a trademark applicant to appropriate a descriptive term for his exclusive use that prevents others from accurately describing and fair using a characteristic of their goods.

Acquire Distinctiveness through Use

However, there are exceptions to the non-registrability of non-distinctive or descriptive mark. If a reasonably well-informed, reasonably observant and reasonably cautious person, upon receiving sufficient education of the use of the mark, may be able to view the sign as coming from a particular trade origin. The use of the mark may be evident by showing the advertisements containing the mark, the investments in promoting the mark, the market share contributed by the mark. In general, 2 - 5 years of use of the mark before the trade mark application is necessary.

Relative Grounds for Refusal

Further, if the HKIPD examiner notices that there exists an earlier trade mark identical or similar to applicant’s trade mark applying to the similar goods or services, the examiner also likely raises objection to the applicant because the consumers may get confused by the applying mark. In this conflicting mark situation, the applicant may have to submit his opinion why he thinks his mark is not similar or not confusing with the earlier mark, or the applicant has to obtain consent from the earlier trade mark owner.

Conclusion

Trade mark applicants should be aware of the probable objection that may be brought out by the HKIPD under the trademark regulatory regime before they apply for the trade mark. This can reduce the chance of possible objections and thus shorten the time of the whole application procedure and increase the chance of successful application.