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Protect your brand avoid trademark infringement and secure your business

By James Wan

What you need to know (in a nutshell)

  1. Trademark infringement occurs when someone uses a trademark without the owner’s authorization in a way that violates their legal rights.
  2. A registered trademark owner has the right to take legal action against infringement. This includes filing a trademark opposition and seeking civil remedies such as damages or an account of profits.
  3. Business owners should take steps to ensure that they don’t infringe existing trademarks by selecting a unique and original mark, and researching to check for similar trademarks. They should also be aware that even unintentionally imitating a well-known brand can lead to trademark infringement.

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Trademark law safeguards the legal rights of registered trademark owners from infringement through unauthorised use. For instance, if a brand “HAPPY CAT” covering clothing and retail services faces a competitor selling items with the same name without permission, this would constitute a trademark infringement.

Infringement may occur if a competitor uses an identical or similar registered trademark for identical goods or services, leading to potential consumer deception or confusion. To avoid infringement, businesses should select original and distinctive trademarks, thus securing protection and facilitating brand identity establishment.

In Australia, the Trademarks Act of 1995 and Copyright Act 1968 provide remedies for infringements, including cease and desist orders, damages, or profit accounts. Notably, Starbucks engaged in a 12-year legal battle with Black Bear Micro Roastery over the “CHARBUCKS” coffee blend. The court ruled in Black Bear’s favour, finding no consumer confusion between the two products.

However, Starbucks successfully sued El Freya in 2003, demonstrating that imitating well-known brands can be risky. Sardarbuksh Coffee & Co., an Indian business, was forced to change its name to Sardarji-Bakhsh and adopt a new logo due to trademark infringement. Similarly, the EU appeal court ruled in favour of Starbucks in a case against COFFEE ROCKS, finding significant similarities between the marks.

These ‘Starbucks wars’ highlight the importance of trademark protection for businesses of all sizes. Companies must take proactive steps to protect their brands and ensure no confusion arises with existing trademarks when entering new markets or launching products. Creative and unique marks, coupled with diligent protection, are essential components of an effective business strategy.