What is a trademark?

Concept of a trademark under the Trademark Act

A trademark refers to all sensible methods of expression used to distinguish one's goods from those of another. However, since it is difficult to protect all such methods legally, the Trademark Act places limits on the protectable constituents of a trademark. Previously, these constituents were limited to a symbol, character, diagram, three-dimensional shape, or any combination thereof, as well as color combinations of the mark. On July 1, 2007, protection under the Trademark Act expanded to include a mark formed by a single color or a combination of colors, holograms, motions, and all types of visually recognizable marks.

To reflect the ROK-EU FTA, the Trademark Act was amended to include regulations to reject a trademark application that is identical or similar to a geographical indication already protected by the FTA and Korean laws.

Additional amendments to the Trademark Act based on the ROK-US FTA permit non-visual trademarks such as sounds and smells to be eligible for trademarks. A certification mark was also introduced to guarantee the quality and characteristics of goods (enforced on March 15, 2012).

In addition, marks that do not distinguish one's goods from another's are not deemed to be a trademark. If a design is only used to inspire users with its aesthetic nature or as a price mark irrelevant to the identification of owners, it shall not be deemed a trademark in accordance with the Trademark Act. On the other hand, collective marks, and business emblems may be regarded as trademarks.

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Concept of a certification mark

A "certification mark" refers to a mark used by a person who commercially certifies and manages the quality, place of origin, methods of production, or other characteristics of goods to certify that goods of others meet quality criteria, the place of origin, methods of production, or other characteristics.

Concept of a business emblem

A "business emblem" refers to a mark used by a person engaged in a nonprofit business like the YMCA or Boy Scouts to indicate that person's business (e.g. Republic of Korea National Red Cross, Junior Chamber, Rotary Club, Korea Consumer Agency, etc.)

  • Last updated 04 May 2023
  • Trademark Examination Policy Division