How to Register a Trademark for Your Business

In this guide, we explain what trademarks are, how they compare to business names, and the scenarios where you need to trademark.


Your brand is your trademark

Businesses looking to find their footing amid competitors and big names work hard to make a lasting impression on their target audience. Apart from perfecting their product or service, businesses develop a signature brand, using colours, slogans, names, and other unique identifiers to differentiate them from others in the marketplace.

A brand image is a competitive advantage. Businesses leverage their branding to earn new business, deepen customer loyalty, raise money, attract talent, and bargain deals, among others. 

Over time, a company’s brand stands not only for its products and services, but also for its reputation. That’s why it’s critical that businesses protect their brand, and any and all marks that separate their products and services from others. The best way to secure a brand is to trademark it

What is a trademark?

Government of Canada defines a trademark as “a sign or a combination of signs used or proposed to be used by a person to distinguish their goods or services from those of others”.

The branding you use to market and sell your products and services is your intellectual property. With a trademark, the law protects your intellectual property from being copied, stolen or misused by others.  Intellectual property includes any creation of the mind that is used in business. 

It is important to note that trademarks are more than logos and slogans. They can be one or more of the following:

Letters /WordsNumbersDesignsMode of Packaging
SoundsTastesColoursMoving Images
ScentsTextures3D ShapesHolograms

Benefits of registering your brand as a trademark

A registered trademark enjoys the legal protection of the Trade-marks Act and gives you the exclusive right to use your branding to sell your products and services. A brand that isn’t trademarked is vulnerable to theft or imitation. A competitor can take credit for your creation, confuse your customers, and take you to court over the rights to your branding and the products or services associated with it. A registered trademark has these guarantees: 

  1. Proof of ownership:  A certificate of registration is evidence that you own the trademark. It’s like a legal title to your company’s image, similar to how a deed gives you ownership to a piece of real estate. 

  2. Exclusive rights: With a trademark, you can use your branding to sell your products and services across Canada for a period of 10 years, and renew it indefinitely for a fee every 10 years. 

  3. Protection against trademark imitation and misuse: A trademark stops others from creating a similar trademark that may confuse your customers.

  4. Flag a trademark infringement: The Trade-marks Act lets you take action against any person or entity who attempts to sell, distribute, advertise or manufacture goods or services with your trademark. 

  5. Monetize the trademark: While your branding starts as a marketing investment, it matures into new revenue streams in the long term. You can license your trademark for various commercial opportunities to boost popularity, raise awareness and bring in the moolah.

Business name registration vs trademark registration

A legal business name is used to identify a business, not a product or a service. If the legal entity (sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation) that owns the business decides to call it by a name other than the legal business name, they have to register that trade name with the government, at the federal, provincial or territorial level. Registration of a trademark, on the other hand, refers to the branding associated with products and services.  


Registration of a business name and registration of a trademark have very different triggers behind them – 

  1. Registering a business name is a legal obligation if you choose to operate your business with a name that’s different from the name of the legal entity that owns the business.

  2. Registering a trademark is a strategic branding decision to prevent competitors or others from duplicating the look and feel of your products or services.

  3. A registered business name can be used as an unregistered trademark to brand and sell your products and services. However, you don’t receive any of the benefits of a registered trademark.

  4. A registered trademark alone cannot identify a business legally.

  5. With a registered business name, you cannot stop another entity from registering an identical name or branding as a trademark, potentially  confusing your customer base.


Learn more about how to choose a business name

Submitting an application to trademark your brand

Trademarking is a long drawn out process. It takes 15 to 18 months from the date of filing for a trademark examiner to review your application, and tell you whether the trademark is registrable or not. 

You file an application with the Registrar of Trademarks at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). As part of the application process, you complete the following or more steps:

  1. Attach a representation and/or description of the trademark.

  2. Include an explanation of the goods and services associated with the trademark.

  3. Submit evidence to prove the extent and time during which the trademark is used in Canada.

  4. Pay a government fee

Top 3 things to remember with trademarks

  1. Do not confuse trademarks with patents and copyright. All three are different intellectual property assets. Patents cover new inventions or improvements to an existing invention, while copyright protects literary, artistic, dramatic or musical works.

  2. Even after registering your trademark, if you don’t use it to promote your products and services, it may be taken off the Register of Trademarks. You also have to use it in the exact same way you describe it in your application.

  3. While a registered business name also known as trade name is the identity of a business, a trademark is the property of a business. When it comes to protecting your ownership of your products or services, trademarking is important. You can trademark your trade name, or the specific names by which you offer your products or services. 

What you can’t register as a trademark


The Trade-marks Act doesn’t allow the following to be registered as trademarks – 

  1. Names and surnames:  Exceptions are made when you can prove the name or surname has acquired a second meaning in the public mind. 

  2. Clearly descriptive marks: The trademark cannot describe the quality or characteristic of the goods or service. For example – “red tomatoes” for a tomato supplying business.

  3. Deceptively misdescriptive marks: Trademarks that mislead the public cannot be registered. For example – using the word ‘organic’ in a trademark for a product that isn’t organically grown.

  4. Place of origin: In the interest of fairness, businesses cannot register trademarks describing the geographical location where the goods or services come from. For example – India Cotton. 

  5. Words in other languages: It is not permitted to trademark the name of your goods or services in a different language.  

  6. Confusing with a registered or pending trademark: If your proposed trademark is confusingly similar to another registered or pending trademark, it will be analysed thoroughly to see if they look or sound alike or if they represent similar ideas or goods or services. 

  7. Trademarks that are identical to, or likely to be mistaken for, prohibited marks: Official government designs, badges, emblems, symbols cannot be trademarked. Obscene and offensive material, portraits and signatures of living or diseased individuals. 


References:

Canadian Intellectual Property Office
Government of Canada