Trade marks are informational signals that distinguish products, services and companies in the marketplace. Registering a trade mark insulates it from copying and infringement for an initial period of 10 years, but trade mark protection can be renewed indefinitely. The activity of creating and registering trade marks is correlated with marketing activity, and with the development of goods and services that are distinct from competitors’ offerings and the creator’s own products.

Trade mark applications and registrations

In 2020, a total of 81 702 trade mark applications were filed in Australia, an 8 per cent increase on 2019. This increase occurred during the steepest fall in Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) in history – a 7 per cent decline during the June quarter. This trend continued as Australia’s economy rebounded in the second half of 2020, resulting in a 1.1 per cent decline in GDP through the year.1

As with applications, trade mark registrations in Australia have risen with GDP over the past decade but continued to increase in 2020 even as GDP fell. Registrations reached 64 086, up 10 per cent on their level in 2019.

Figure T1. Trade mark applications and registrations, 2011–20

Resident and non-resident filings

The growth in trade mark applications in Australia was due to growth in filings by Australian residents. In 2020, residents were named as applicants on 51 662 trade mark applications, up 17 per cent from 2019. Of these resident filings, 3 818 (or 7 per cent) were multi-party applications – most (3 755) coming from residents with Australian co-applicants only, the remaining (63) being mixed origin, with Australian and international co-applicants. The remaining 47 844 resident applications were from single Australian applicants (Table T1).

In contrast, non-residents accounted for 30 040 applications in 2020, a 4 per cent fall from their level in 2019. The majority (29 677) came from single non-resident applicants, with a smaller number (363) from international co-applicants without involvement of Australian residents.

Table T1. Origin of single and multi-party trade mark applications, 2020

Applicant group Single party applications Multi-party applications Total count of applications per applicant group
Common origina Mixed originb
Residents 47 844 3 755 63 51 662
Non-residents 29 677 363 - 30 040
Total 77 521 4 118 63 81 702

a Common origin applications either involve two or more resident applicants or two or more non-resident applicants.

b Mixed origin applications involve at least on resident applicant and at least on non-resident applicant.

Small and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) accounted for 94 per cent of applications filed by organisations operating in Australia during 2020, the remaining 6 per cent were from large firms.

Australian residents are also the leading source of trade mark registrations in Australia. In 2020, growth occurred in registrations from both applicant groups: residents registered 35 033 trade marks (up 11 per cent from 2019) while non-residents registered 29 053 trade marks (up 7 per cent).

Trade mark classes

Trade marks are attributed to specific product and service classes using Nice, an international classification scheme comprised of 45 classes.2 Applicants, who can nominate one or several Nice classes for their application, filed 148 104 classes in 2020, an average of 1.8 classes per application.

Since 2002, there has been relative stability in the degree to which trade mark applications are concentrated across classes, with five classes dominating for total filings (Table T2).

Table T2. Trade mark classes, top 5 in 2020

Class 9 Technological and electrical apparatus
Class 35 Advertising
Class 41 Education, training and entertainment
Class 42 Scientific and technological services
Class 25 Clothing, footwear and headgear
Applications 14 130 14 370 10 816 9 719 7 239
Annual change 2019–20 +8% +3% +2% +7% +13%

As shown in Figure T2, the greatest change in classes was observed for Surgical and medical apparatus (+23 per cent from 2019), Pharmaceutical and veterinary preparations (+23 per cent), Clothing and footwear (+13 per cent), Non-medicated cosmetics and toiletries (+13 per cent) and Legal services (+12 per cent). The classes with the highest rates of decline were Medical and veterinary services (–10 per cent) and Transport services (–9 per cent). These trends likely reflect the massive demand for products to help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic and the uneven sectoral impacts of business restrictions intended to curb infection spread.

Figure T2. Applications for trade marks related to medical and health care products and services increased in 2020

Notes: Figure T2 depicts change over time in the share of trade mark applications nominating five key NICE classes. The classes shown exhibited the greatest change (growth or decline) in application levels in 2019–20; excluded from consideration are low-volume classes, defined as those which on average have received less than 2 000 applications per year over the past decade.

States and territories

In 2020, trade mark applications increased from their levels in 2019 across all states and territories except the Northern Territory (Table T3). Applicants from New South Wales were named in the largest number of applications (18 286), followed by applicants from Victoria (named in 16 105 applications). Victorian applicants led for the most applications per capita (2.2 per thousand people), and for the highest rate of growth in applications (21 per cent) during 2020.

Of the 51 662 resident applications in 2020, a total of 118 were filed by applicants in interstate partnerships. The most common interstate partnerships involved co-applicants from New South Wales and Queensland (28 applications), from New South Wales and Victoria (17 applications), and from Queensland and Victoria (17 applications).

Table T3. Trade mark applications, states and territories, 2019–20

NSW VIC QLD WA SA ACT TAS NT
Total 2020 18 286 16 105 9 418 3 558 3 032 712 487 170
Annual change, 2019-20 14% 21% 17% 17% 15% 6% 12% -6%
Per capita (thousands) 2.24 2.41 1.82 1.81 1.71 1.65 0.90 0.69

Note: In calculating the number of applications per state, a state receives an additional count of one each time at least one applicant from the state is named on an application. As an application can be counted multiple times if it has applicants from multiple states, the sum of counts by state will not equal to total resident applications.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Demographic Statistics, March 2020. Retrieved 27 January 2021.

Leading applicants

Table T4 reports the top domestic and international applicants. The applicants come from a broad range of industries, reflecting the broad range of trade mark use.

Leading among the top-ranked domestic applicants, with 215 applications, was Bluescope Steel, a major global manufacturer of steel products. Second-ranked, with 125 applications, was Australian Blue Moon Hero, whose trade marks concentrate in the product class of pharmaceutical and veterinary preparations (including dietary supplements and substances adapted for medical use). Ranked third, with 119 applications, was gaming machine manufacturer Aristocrat Technologies. They were followed by Coles Group, with 105 applications related mainly to advertising and business management methods. Pinnacle Liquor Group, with 96 applications, retained its fifth-ranked position from 2019.

Among the leading international applicants, the top 3 retained their places from 2019. They included two smartphone manufacturers – Huawei Technologies from China and Apple from the US – and Novartis, a pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland. Ranked fourth, Amazon Technologies is new to the top-filer list, after launching in Australia in 2017. Ranked fifth, and also new to the list, was the global healthcare company Johnson & Johnson.

Table T4. Top 5 domestic and international applicants for trade marks in Australia, 2020

Rank Top 5 domestic Australian applicants Top 5 international applicants
Applicant Total applications Rank change Applicant Total applications Rank change
1 Bluescope Steel 215 new Huawei Technologies 186 -
2 Australia Blue Moon Hero 125 new Novartis AG 144 -
3 Aristocrat Technologies Australia 119 ↓1 Apple 103 -
4 Coles Group 105 ↓3 Amazon Technologies 70 new
5 Pinnacle Liquor Group 96 - Johnson & Johnson 69 new

Countries of origin

In 2020, as in every year since 2015, the major countries of origin for trade mark applicants (besides Australia) were the United States (US), China, the United Kingdom (UK), Germany and Japan. In total, 8 918 trade mark applications named US applicants, 4 815 named Chinese applicants, 2 215 named applicants from the UK, 1 709 named German applicants and 1 323 named applicants from Japan. Applications fell from their level in 2019 for all of these countries of origin except Japan, filings from which remained stable.

Of the 81 702 total applications filed in Australia, 97 named applicants from multiple countries. The most common international partnerships involved Australians filing with co-applicants from Hong Kong (16 applications), the US (15 applications) and China (7 applications).

Following a sustained period of growth in applications filed by international partnerships in 2015–19, international partnership applications fell in 2020 (Figure T3). The decline may reflect the volatility in international trade introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trade mark applications can be filed directly in Australia or via the Madrid system, which allows a single trade mark to be filed in multiple countries. In 2020, 16 872 trade mark applications in Australia were filed via this system, equating to 56 per cent of all non-resident applications.

Figure T3. After a period of sustained growth, trade mark applications filed by international partnerships fell in 2020

Australian filings overseas

Before the pandemic, trade mark applications filed by Australians overseas exhibited strong continuous growth. In 2019 (most recent WIPO data), Australian residents filed a total of 20 573 trade mark applications abroad. These contained 47 983 class nominations, up 10 per cent from 2018. The primary destination countries for these filings were China (19 per cent of all class nominations in applications abroad), the US (15 per cent), New Zealand (12 per cent) and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (6 per cent). 3

In Chapter 7 of this report, we present the results of research undertaken by IP Australia which estimates the benefits to Australian exporters from filing trade marks overseas, and the role of trade marks in shaping how exporters respond to shocks, such as tariff changes and movements in bilateral exchange rates.



COVID-19: how has it affected trade mark activity

In 2020 trade mark applications in Australia soared, particularly during periods of lockdown, as governments acted to contain the spread of the coronavirus. This strong growth was out of line with the historical pro-cyclical pattern where applications tend to decrease in periods of economic uncertainty.

Resident trade mark filings increased above past averages during and after periods of sustained lockdown.

There were two periods of sharp deviation from the past average, particularly in NSW and Victoria; first in March, coinciding with the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia, and again in early August, coinciding with the start of the sustained lockdown in Victoria. The data shows that in the first wave applications dropped but in the second half of 2020, as lockdowns in Victoria were introduced, trade mark applications grew.

Growth in resident filing activity was spread across sectors including health and wellbeing products and services

At the national level of resident applications, three COVID-19 related Nice classes registered strong growth, particularly in the second half of the year: Surgical, medical, dental and veterinary apparatus and instruments (Class 10) increased by 56 per cent; Pharmaceutical and veterinary preparations (Class 5) increased by 41 per cent; and Non-medicated cosmetics and toiletry preparations (Class 3) increased by 36 per cent. However, these classes accounted for only 8.5 per cent of total resident class nominations.

In NSW and Victoria combined – where 9 out of 10 COVID-19 cases occurred in Australia – the growing gap between resident applications in the second half of 2020 and their average from 2018–19 (Figure TC 1) was largely driven by growth across 40 of the 45 Nice classes. Much of the growth occurred within the top 5 classes (outlined in Table T2); however, in Victoria and NSW the growth in these classes well exceeded the national growth rate.

Figure TC 1: Deviation from 2018 & 2019 moving average – NSW and Victoria trade mark applications 2020, moving average

Source: IPGOD 2021.

As with Australia’s experience, many countries witnessed structural shifts in the pattern of Nice class nominations, with applications in Class 10 (Surgical, medical, dental and veterinary apparatus and instruments) almost doubling in the US, UK and China. Strong growth also occurred in a number of countries for applications in Class 5 (Pharmaceutical and veterinary preparations). These results suggest that, while timed with key events in Australia’s experience of the pandemic, the patterns of growth observed in domestic filing activity reflect global trends.

Trade marks in a time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major upheaval to businesses and households through 2020. The data indicates that certain sectors in the Australia economy where trade mark filing is historically the strongest have weathered the pandemic and continued to expand. Eight of the top 10 Nice classes nominated in Australian applications in 2019 grew in 2020 which indicates that businesses continue to value Australia’s trade mark system. Trade marks will continue to play an important role in ensuring that one of a business’s most important assets, its brand, continues to be protected in Australia and abroad.



Endnotes

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian National Accounts, December 2020. Retrieved 12 March 2021.

  2. For details, see: <https://www.uspto.gov/trademark/trademark-updates-and-announcements/nice-agreement-current-edition-version-general-remarks>.

  3. WIPO IP Statistics Data Center (January 2021 update); Trademark; Indicator: “Indicator :5 - Class count in total applications (direct and via the Madrid system)”; Report type: “Count by filing office and applicant’s origin”; Select Origin: “Australia”; https://www3.wipo.int/ipstats/index.htm?tab=trademark, 22 March 2021.

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