2021 was a remarkable year for trade mark registration. Trade mark activity tends to follow the ups and downs of our economy through a procyclical relationship. When times are good, more businesses start up and more trade marks are applied for. Yet, Australia rebelled against this trend in 2021. 

Research by IP Australia showed despite the challenges and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was a record year for trade mark application filings.

In 2021, 88,725 trade mark applications were filed in Australia (up 9%), adding to the 8% increase already experienced in 2020. Australian residents accounted for 60% of trade mark applications in 2021, with a 3% increase in applications from 2020, likely reflecting the impact of COVID-19 border closures and changes in global economic activity. 

Foreign entity investment in Australian trade marks also grew, with applications filed from the United States growing by 25%.

Unfortunately, we have not seen this trend continue through 2022. While the world slowly returned to its new normal, trade mark applications have experienced steady negative growth throughout the year. 

As of the end of September 2022, a year-on-year comparison saw a 10% decline in application volume. A comparison of the respective first quarter of the financial years showed a decline of 16%. The bulk of this decline appears to be attributed to domestic applications.

Why Do Businesses Register Trade Marks?

Brands are central to a business’ marketing strategy, allowing consumers to differentiate one business’ goods and services from those of another business. 

A registered trade mark is an important part of a robust branding strategy, as it provides exclusive rights to use, license and sell in the marketplace. With branding being a major contributor to how consumers make choices on products and services and the resultant commercial success of a business, it is not surprising that there is a strong correlation between economic activity and trade mark registration (and the protection of IP generally).

IP Australia’s research into the role of registered trade marks in small business growth identified that Australian small businesses with a registered trade mark are 13% more likely to achieve high turnover growth and pay a higher median annual wage.

Trade Marks Ownership By Industry

The software industry remains the highest contributor to trade mark applications, being in the top two industries for application numbers since 2017. IP Australia has conducted exploratory research into the industries with the most trade mark applications filed each year. 

The top five industries for trade mark applications between 2017 and 2021 were:

1. Software

2. Advertising, marketing, and promotions

3. Art and culture

4. Education and training

5. Business, management, and human resources

With significant changes to working arrangements and lifestyle, and more time spent in the home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unsurprising that trade mark applications for businesses selling household items and kitchen utensils skyrocketed.

Following a similar trend, industries that supported individuals and businesses during lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions had an increase in trade mark applications in 2021. These industries included fitness and sport, games and toys, medical and telecommunications. This is consistent with trends in another intellectual property right – patents – as applications for audio-visual technology patents grew by 85% in 2021.

In contrast, 2021 saw a decrease in trade mark applications relating to industries which rely on social activity – such as travel, photography, and babysitting services. This trend is also consistent with lifestyle and economic shifts in 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These trends indicate a growing understanding of the benefits of trade mark protection and support the hypothesis that trade mark applications are directly affected by changes in economic activity.

If you think a trade mark might be right for your business, you can start by using IP Australia’s free trade mark checker tool. The tool will give you an indication of whether your proposed trade mark may be suitable for registration.

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