IP Guide for SMEs:


Why are Trademarks Relevant to the Success of Your SME

By World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)

Creating or Selecting a Trademark

Conducting Trademark Searches

Using Brands and Designs to Market Goods & Services Abroad

A trade or service mark is a distinctive sign which identifies certain products or services as those produced or provided by a specific person, enterprise or a group of persons/enterprises allowing the consumer to distinguish them from goods or services of others (for a more detailed explanation click here).

Your trademarks are in many ways the face of your business. They allow your customers to distinguish your products or services from those of your competitors, giving your SME the possibility to better market its goods or services.


But trademarks are not just used as identifiers. They are also seen as a guarantee of consistent quality. A customer who is pleased with the quality of your product or service will continue to purchase it based on the quality expectations based upon the known trademark. You should, therefore, take great care in choosing and designing an appropriate trademark, protecting it, using it with care in advertising, and policing its misleading or improper use by others.

While selecting a mark, you should find out whether the envisaged mark or similar ones have already been registered by other enterprises for the category of products or services and markets that you are interested in. This type of information is obtained by conducting a trademark search. Doing it early is crucial so as to avoid unnecessary conflicts with other enterprises and loss of resources.

Once you have searched trademark databases for conflicting marks, you should think about finding the best way of protecting it. On how to register your trademark see: “Some Common Features of Trademark Registration Procedures.”

Creating or Selecting a Trademark

Creating or selecting a trademark is no easy task. There are, in fact, specialized companies whose main service is to find or develop an appropriate trademark for your needs. While there are no hard-and-fast rules of what may be a successful trademark, there are some useful guidelines. Initially, you should make sure that your proposed mark meets the legal requirements for trademark registration. Above all, your mark must be sufficiently distinctive to be protectable and registrable with your national and foreign trademark offices. Inherent distinctiveness will also enhance its easy recognition by consumers. Moreover, among the commonly used criteria for creating, designing or selecting a trademark, you may wish to consider the following:

  • The sign should be easy to read, spell, pronounce and remember in all relevant languages.

  • It should have no adverse meaning in slang or undesirable connotations.

  • It should be suitable for export markets with no adverse meaning in foreign languages, especially if you intend to commercialize the product abroad.

  • It should not create confusion as to the nature of the product.

  • It should be adaptable to all advertising media.

  • Your trademark of choice is likely to fall under one of the following categories:


    Coined words (or “fanciful” words): These are invented words without any real meaning in any language (e.g. Kodak or Exxon). Coined words have the advantage of being easy to protect as they are more likely to be considered distinct. On the negative side, however, they may be more difficult to remember for consumers requiring greater efforts in advertising the products.

    Arbitrary marks are trademarks that consist of words that have a real meaning in a given language. The meaning of such words, however, has no relation to the product itself or to any of its qualities (e.g. Apple for a Computer). As is the case with coined words, while the level and ease of protection is generally high, there is no direct association between the mark and the product requiring thus greater marketing power to create such an association in the mind of the consumer.

    Suggestive marks are marks which hint at one or some of the attributes of the product. The appeal of suggestive marks lies in the fact that they act as a form of advertising and may create a direct association in the mind of consumers between the trademark, certain desired qualities and the product. A related risk, however, is that some jurisdictions may consider a suggestive mark too descriptive or not sufficiently distinctive to meet the criteria for trademark protection.

    As a first step to protecting trademarks, you are advised to conduct a trademark search to make sure that the mark in question is not already in use by another enterprise in the target market(s). Trademark offices in many countries register marks without comparing them with existing trademark registrations and applications received earlier, but leave it to your future competitors to give notice of opposition once the mark or the application has been published/registered. Therefore, obtaining trademark registration in such countries is no guarantee that the trademark will not be infringing on the rights of others. It is therefore important, wherever possible, to search national trademark databases prior to using a trademark for your export operations.

    Trademark searches may be conducted through online databases (though few countries currently offer such services), specialized firms, or at the national trademark registry. It is important to bear in mind that, while trademarks which are identical to your own mark can be easily identified, confusingly similar trademarks that conflict with your own will be more difficult to spot. Depending on the merits of the case, it may be advisable to use the services of a competent trademark agent or attorney for a trademark search for your SME.

    Since most trademarks (with the exception of “well-known marks”) only protect the goods or services for which they are registered as well as those goods or services that are similar to those for which the trademark is registered, your registered trademark may be lawfully used by others for marketing goods or services that are unrelated to those of your SME.

    A list of on-line trademark databases by country is available at the following link.

    Using Brands and Designs to Market Goods and Services Abroad


    The reasons for protecting trademarks and industrial designs in the domestic market fully apply to foreign markets too. Trademark registration, in particular, enables you to maximize product differentiation, advertising and marketing, thus enhancing recognition of your product or service in international markets and establishing a direct link with the foreign consumers. Depending on the nature of your service, a franchising agreement with firms abroad, could be a useful alternative way to earn revenue from your trademark abroad as well.

    Companies that export unbranded products will face disadvantages such as:

    • Lower revenues as consumers demand lower prices for unbranded goods.

    • Lack of customer loyalty largely due to their inability to recognize the product and distinguish it from the products of competitors.

    • Difficulties in marketing and advertising products or services abroad in the absence of a suitable symbol or easy identifier that links your products or services with your SME, as marketing an unbranded product is inherently much more difficult.

    With regard to industrial designs, protection in export markets will help not only to strengthen your overall marketing strategy but may also be important for customizing products for specific target markets, creating new niche markets for your company’s products, and strengthening your company’s image and reputation by linking it to a specific design.