Trade-marks Q & A – Usage Guidelines


In an earlier post we answered some common questions about trade-marks. Here are a few more practical issues about usage guidelines:

Q: What are “trade-mark usage guidelines”?

A: A set of “trade-mark usage guidelines” is like a rule-book on how a trade-mark should be used and displayed. These guidelines are designed to guide those who might not otherwise know (or care about) the specifics of how the trade-mark should appear. Guidelines of this type might specify the type of font, the particular colours which should be used, the size and relative position, and the placement of the trade-mark in relation to other elements on the label, or page or ad copy. They should go into enough detail to direct someone in the proper and consistent use of the trade-mark.

Q: Why are they necessary?

A: Trade-mark usage guidelines are necessary because consistency in the appearance of the trade-mark is very important to maintain the validity and strength of the mark over time. If a trade-mark changes too much over time or is inconsistent in the way it is used, it may lose distinctiveness and be open to attack by competitors. Look at the distinctive script used in the Coca-cola trademark. It has been used in the same way since the 1880s and strict guidelines ensure that the relative size, colour and shape of the script remain consistent across time and across a multitude of uses, from bottle and pop can labels to every conceivable type of spin-off merchandising.

Q: When would trade-mark usage guidelines be necessary?

A:  Trade-mark usage guidelines are necessary when others within your company, or others outside your company who are licensed to use your mark, need to reproduce the trade-mark regularly in the course of advertising, labelling, packaging or corporate communications. It is a way of setting and maintaining certain standards when you don’t have direct control over the use of the mark. Here are a few examples: In a large company, guidelines can be distributed to the marketing department, so that the person in charge of the online advertising can be reading from the same set of standards as someone producing corporate T-shirts, or someone sending instructions to an ad agency producing magazine ads or the intern designing the annual report. These are all uses that technically take place within the company or within the direct control of the company. Another trade-mark owner may have franchised its business model so that a hundred individual franchisees all use the mark for their own local advertising across the country or in different countries. Usage guidelines will ensure brand consistency across the entire franchise. Guidelines can also be useful for resellers, authorized distributors or service providers.

Q: Can you give me some tips on trade-mark usage guidelines?

A: Yes, when developing trade-mark usage guidelines, you should keep in mind several things: Who is your audience? Present your guidelines in a way that makes sense for those using the mark. It may make sense to keep the guidelines confidential within the company. It may make sense to publish guidelines on the internet, if that is the most effective way to protect the integrity of the brand. Your marketing department may simply need some basic guidance by email, with a designated “official” file attachment containing the approved form of the mark. Or, you may need a more involved explanation of trademark usage. Some companies prepare detailed guidelines that explain exactly what to do and what not to do. Also, look at what marks you are trying to control. Make sure you list and identify the marks governed by the guidelines. Some marks may not need to be covered by the guidelines. Sone marks may be old forms of the trade-mark that you wish to phase out in favour of a new colour scheme or style as part of a controlled evolution to a new brand.

For a few examples of effective trade-mark usage guidelines, see:
Sun Microsystems

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