What can't be a trade mark?

There are certain words, phrases and images that can't be trade marked, or can only be registered under special circumstances.

Common words, phrases and images

We can't accept applications for everyday words, phrases or images that directly describe a good or service. These should remain available for all businesses to use.

Examples:

  • 'Global' for freight shipping services
  • 'Juicy oranges' for orange juice
  • 'Ultra white' for paper
  • 'Eco-friendly' for recycling services
  • '4x4' for vehicles
  • Photograph of a cat for pet food
  • Sketch of an iron for irons.

Geographical names

The name of a location is difficult to register. It's likely others will need to use it to describe the origin of their own goods or services.

Examples:

  • 'Adelaide' for car wash services
  • 'Bass Strait' for seafood.

You may be able to register a geographical name if you can prove:

  • You've used it for your goods or services extensively for a long period, and
  • Consumers associate the name with your goods or services, not just with the location.

Common surnames

The more common a surname (e.g. 'Smith' or 'Brown'), the more difficult it will be to register. This is because other traders will have a legitimate desire to use it for their own brand.

Hashtags

Hashtags are a popular social media feature used to categorise and search messages. As hashtags are commonly used, they aren't typically trade mark material. Usually, it's what follows the # symbol that distinguishes your brand (e.g. '#ARNOTTS').

Prohibited signs

As a member state to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, Australia won't register trade marks that contain or resemble:

  • Armorial bearings
  • Flags
  • Emblems
  • Official signs
  • Hallmarks
  • Abbreviations and names of international intergovernmental organisations.

Restricted financial terms

There are certain terms only Authorised Deposit-Taking Institutions listed by the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) can use. The terms include the following (and any like terms in any language):

  • Authorised deposit-taking institution (ADI)
  • Bank
  • Banker
  • Banking
  • Building society
  • Credit society
  • Credit union
  • Friendly society.

These restrictions only apply to trade marks for insurance, financial, monetary and real estate services (Class 36).