A trademark is a sign that a company uses to distinguish their goods and services. It can be a word like IKEA or Coca-Cola or a sign like the small apple from Apple. Even certain colours or shapes can be trademarks, and so can trade names or company names. Trademark rights are part of intellectual property rights.
Unlike copyright, a trademark is only protected when it is registered. After registration no one else can use the trademark without prior consent of the holder. Nor can a company use a name that is similar to the already registered name if there is a risk of confusion of the two trademarks. If someone starts using an already registered name anyway, this constitutes a wrongful act and the trademark owner can take action against infringements, for example by starting an injunction procedure.
In order for a trademark to be protected in the Netherlands it has to be registered at the Benelux Trademark Office (after which the trademark is protected in the whole of the Benelux). The registration is valid for a period of 10 years after which the registration can be renewed.
When you require broader European protection of your trademark (e.g. when you conduct business outside the Benelux as well), you need to register the trademark at the Office for Harmonization of the Internal Market in Spain. For worldwide protection you need to register at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva.
Not every name or logo can be registered as a trademark. The trademark needs to meet a few criteria. Firstly, the trademark must have distinctive character. Signs that are merely descriptive are not allowed. Also, signs may not be deceptive. For example a picture of a cow on a pork product. Further, a sign cannot infringe other intellectual property rights like for example trade name rights.
Regardless proper registration, a trademark registration can be (entirely or partly) revoked if the trademark has not been used for over 5 years. In that case another company can request the Trademark Office to delete the registration. It is therefore recommended to keep your trademark registration up to date, especially when your company had a facelift or changed its signs.
An IP Lawyer of Law firm AMS can advise you in matters as trademark law, infringement of your protected trademark and how to transfer trademark rights. Please feel free to contact us for further advice.