A trade mark, typically a name or a logo, is a piece of Intellectual Property. For any business, applying for and registering a trade mark is critical in maintaining your brand’s exclusivity and successfully building your brand’s reputation.

For most, thinking about a trade mark is only relevant when running a business to ensure a competitor can’t use or copy your business name. Not many would realise that for a church or spiritual organisation, obtaining a trade mark is equally as important. Religion, while moving to the background of Australia’s increasingly secular society, still features prominently in many ways. Religious and spiritual organisations aren’t exempt from the commercial decisions secular businesses must make such as protecting their brand. Below, we explain what is a denominational trade mark and set out what special rules apply. 

What is a Denominational Trademark?

A denominational trade mark is a trademark, within the meaning of section 17 of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) (‘Act’), used by a spiritual or religious organisation to distinguish their particular organisation and the spiritual services offered to followers.

Do Special Rules Apply to Denominational Trademarks?

Religious organisations continue to receive special treatment in some areas of Australian law. For example, before 25 June 2013, religious organisations providing Commonwealth funded aged care services were exempt from Federal anti-discrimination laws when making employment decisions. The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013, however, changed this position.

Religious and spiritual organisations receive no special treatment under the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth). A religious organisation wanting to apply for a trademark must ensure that the mark is capable of distinguishing its goods and services, as with every other entity wishing to apply for a trade mark.

Evidence of Past Use

Under Section 41 of the ActIP Australia can reject a trade mark application because the trademark is not sufficiently capable of distinguishing the goods or services of the applicant. If an application is rejected, for this reason, your organisation can provide evidence of past use to demonstrate that the mark does, in fact, distinguish your goods or services.

If a religious organisation ever had their trade mark application rejected on the basis of a section 41 objection, it would be indeed curious to see the evidence of past use produced. Perhaps it would produce carved stone engravings from medieval churches or ancient Bible pages!

Key Takeaways

In short, a denominational trade mark is a trade mark used by a denominational organisation to identify their organisation. No special rules apply to religious organisations if they wish to apply for a trademark and an organisation must comply with the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) in doing so.

Questions about registering your denominational trade mark? Get in touch with our trade mark lawyers on 1300 544 755. 

Chloe Sevil

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