Role of Trade Marks in Promoting Sustainability

Trademarks represent much more than just the origin of goods or services…they represent a pledge to deliver quality products/services, communicate brand owners’ values and ideologies and embody consumers’ expectations. Good brand experiences not only compel consumers to stay loyal to their preferred brand, but they also incentivize consumers to market their brand of choice to their peers.

With the increasing awareness of inevitability of sustainability for human existence amongst governments, businesses and end consumers alike, there appears to be a shift towards adopting eco-friendly products and developing “green” brands that promote sustainability. Brand owners and governments worldwide are consciously taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint by utilizing green technologies, making use of natural raw materials, moving away from synthetic goods and adopting sustainable habits. The Science, Technology and Innovation Policy supporting use of intellectual property to combat climate change, and the Green Business Scheme providing financial assistance for activities that can tackle climate change are some of the initiatives taken the Government of India to promote sustainability. With the shift in sustainability being a priority on corporate and governmental agendas and an increasing population choosing eco-friendly products, the role of trademarks in developing green brands cannot be overlooked.

Trademarks, due to their inherent nature of being source identifiers, can bring the best in sustainable products by instantly conveying that the products bearing the marks, or services offered under the marks, are “green”. Pertinently, the Trade Marks Register has not remained unaffected with the increased awareness about the need to promote sustainability even at a grassroot level. There has been a surge in applications for trademarks incorporating the terms ECO, BIO, E, RE and the like, images of leaves or the Earth or the colour green, to indicate that goods/services offered are eco-friendly. CONSCIOUS by H&M and JOIN LIFE by ZARA for products produced using eco-friendly processes and sustainable raw materials, DINEARTH for alternative source tableware and crockery products, MAMAEARTH for toxin free natural beauty care products and BIOTIQUE for skin and hair care developed from ayurveda with 100% botanicals are good examples of green trademarks.

The most visible hurdle faced by brand owners in seeking statutory protection for such marks is the tendency to weaken their distinctive character by making them descriptive of the kind or quality of the goods/services covered by the trade mark applications. In India, it is not uncommon for such trade mark applications to receive an office objection on absolute grounds. Adding design or graphic elements, claiming colors in a mark, using different font stylizations or a combination of these could assist in pre-empting such an objection. Disclaiming exclusive rights in the descriptive elements of the mark may also pave the way to registration. Adoption of suggestive marks, that require a consumer to go through a series of mental steps before concluding the nature of goods/services the mark pertains to, and use of taglines with inherently distinctive terms, are also effective ways to relay sustainability of a product without comprising on the registrability of the mark in question.

Certification Marks can also be used as an effective tool to promote sustainability by conveying to consumers that a product or service meets the minimum standards set by an organization to be tagged as “green”. The Ecomark, for instance, is a certification mark issued by the Bureau of Indian Standards (the national standards body of India) to products conforming to a set of standards aimed at the least impact on the ecosystem. The Ecomark Scheme covers various product categories, such as soaps and detergents, food items, packing/packaging materials, electrical and electronic goods, food additives, wood substitutes, cosmetics, plastic products, textiles, and many more. GreenPro, issued by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), is another such mark. It is a mark of guarantee representing that the product bearing this mark is environment friendly throughout its life cycle and, ultimately, empowers customers with product sustainability information. Such certification marks, therefore, help environmentally conscious customers to make informed choices to buy eco-friendly products.

The role played by trademarks in empowering end users with product sustainability information and steering them towards purchasing of sustainable products is often underestimated. Green trademarks, that identify eco-friendly products, not only identify the brand’s contribution towards sustainability, but also influence consumers into making eco-friendly choices in their day-to-day lives. In this manner, green trademarks act as effective marketing tools for environmentally conscious businesses and tend to give them an edge over businesses that simply focus on profitability.

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