Can You Trademark the Design of a Building?

Apple Store Trademark

The design of a building plays a crucial role in determining its future performance, sustainability, and energy efficiency. Designing a building is no simple feat. It can be a long, tedious, and costly process depending on the desired outcome. As such, the question of whether you can trademark the design of a building sometimes arises.

You can trademark the design of a building if it has a widely recognizable and visually unique design. In addition, the design of the building should be part of its brand identity. You must also own the design of the building.

Keep reading to discover more about building design, trademarking the design of a building, the benefits of doing so, and how to apply for a trademark.

What Is a Building Design?

A building design is a look, packaging, and visual appearance of the interior and exterior of the building. The design applies to different structures, including churches, office blocks, residential houses, etc.

To develop the design of a building, the architect or designer sits down with the client. He listens to the client’s vision and requirements for the new building and then translates the client’s needs and vision into a design.

The client has to approve the final design of a building. After the client has approved, the construction can start.

Defining a Trademark

A trademark is a protected sign or symbol that distinguishes one thing from the other. For example, the trademark of WhatsApp is very different from the trademark of Facebook. The two cannot be confused. Trademark laws protect a trademark.

A trademark is protected under intellectual property rights. Intellectual Property (IP) is anything that is a creation of the mind, and its use is for commercial purposes. It includes any of the following (and more):

  • Artistic works
  • Inventions
  • Symbols
  • Names
  • Designs

So, the design of a building is intellectual property.

The law protects intellectual property through trademarks, copyright, and patents. The intellectual property laws aim to create an environment where innovation and creativity can thrive. As a result, people can earn financial benefits and recognition for their creations and inventions.

Trademarking the Design of a Building

The design of a building is eligible for registration as a trademark. A building with a unique and widely recognizable design can apply for a trademark. The idea is to prevent others from copying the design of the building in any way or using the design for commercial gain.

If someone copies the design in any way, people might confuse the copied building design with the original one. The original owner of the design could suffer losses due to the confusion. In addition, the trademark prevents other people from exploiting the design of the building and benefiting financially from the exploitation.

Building Designs Eligible for Trademarks

Although you can trademark the design of a building, there is a caveat. Not all building designs are eligible for a trademark. For a building design to become eligible for a trademark, the building’s design must be widely recognizable.

By recognizable, we mean that when people see the building, they associate it with a particular business, organization, etc. The design should also be visually unique. A visually unique design means that there is no other design like it anywhere else.

In addition, you must put the building to commercial use. If the building is not already in commercial use, you should show in good faith your intent to use it in commerce in the future.

Benefits of Trademark Holders

Once the design of a building gets a trademark, the trademark holder enjoys some benefits. Below are some of them:

  • They get exclusive rights to use the trademark. So, if someone infringes on the trademark by using it for commercial gain, the trademark holder can sue the infringer. The holder can be paid damages for the infringement. In some instances, the courts give the infringer’s illegal activities’ profits to the trademark holder.
  • Additionally, nobody else is allowed to build a building like yours because their structure could be confused with yours. You could also lose business as people might think that you have opened another branch. You might also lose credibility, especially if the products or services offered in the other building are of inferior quality.
  • If someone copies your design, you can sue them for infringement on your trademark. If the construction of the building has not started, you could ask the court to give an injunction to stop the constructor from going ahead. If the building works have already begun, you could ask the court to halt continued construction. On top of that, you can demand damages.

Examples of Buildings Whose Designs Have Trademarks

Many building owners have acquired trademarks for the designs of their buildings. Below are a few examples:

  • The Transamerica Building has a silhouette, triangular tower that is very famous. The owners got a trademark because the design of the building is visually unique. The design is also associated with the financial services that Transamerica provides.
  • The Taj Mahal Palace in India got a trademark in 2017. IHCL owns the building. The building is visually unique because of its grand exterior. It also has a Florentine gothic dome with red tiles. It was the first building in India to get a design trademark.
  • Apple got a trademark for the design of its retail store. Although Apple does not own buildings in every country, they got a trademark that covers the interior design of their stores worldwide. The trademark protects the shelving, floor arrangement, glass storefront, etc. So, no other business should use their interior design.

The Process of Getting a Trademark

If you want to trademark the design of a building, you could visit your country’s regional trademark offices. You file an application for trademark registration with them.

You then pay the required fees and wait for their verdict. Alternatively, you can make the application online, depending on the laws of your country. You could also use the services of a trademark attorney.

Conclusion

The intellectual property laws recognize the time, money, skills, knowledge, and energy invested when designing a building.

That is why visually unique designs of buildings are part of IP. They are thus eligible for trademarks to protect the owners from exploitation.

The authorities cannot trademark every other building. So, before you apply for a trademark for the design of a building, make sure that the structure is visually unique.

Also, ensure that it is used for or will be used for commercial purposes. Otherwise, you could have an uphill task trying to trademark the design of the building.

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