Acceptance and refusal of trademarks

The law states that in a number of cases we are required to refuse a trademark application. If we refuse a trademark, we cannot enter it in the BOIP Trademarks Register. This means no trademark protection and costs paid are non-refundable. This can be avoided by making sure you are properly informed in advance. On this page you can read about the reasons why trademarks are refused. 

The most important reasons for refusal 

The most important reasons for the refusal of trademarks are: 

  1. The trademark is descriptive
  2. The trademark lacks distinctive character

More about the most important reasons for refusal

The most important reasons for the refusal of trademarks are: 

  1. The trademark is descriptive.  A trademark is descriptive when it consists of a word that describes the product or the service, or characteristics thereof, or promotes these. A trademark can also be descriptive when it consists of a simple device that reflects the product or the service. 
    Example  Trademarks that are refused  Trademarks that are accepted 
    A trademark application for ‘bicycles’: 
    • Super-fast 
    • Attractive 
    • Bicycle 
    • Or: an image of a bicycle 
    • Pavement 
    • Banana 
    • Lama
    • JanBike
    • Brams Bikes

    N.B.: ‘Words’ here does not always refer to words that provide a literal description! Abbreviations are also considered when determining whether something is ‘descriptive’. For instance, the trademark 'medi' is not listed in the dictionary as a common abbreviation for 'medical'. All the same, it is a common designation that consumers will understand right away as describing ‘something in the medical field’. That therefore makes it a descriptive trademark, so this sort of trademark can also be refused.  

  2. The trademark lacks distinctive character. A trademark distinguishes the products and services of one company from those of others. If a trademark is not distinctive, the average consumer cannot identify it as originating from a particular company. Consequently, therefore, it cannot be a trademark. Below are some examples of trademarks that are lacking in distinctive character and which would therefore be refused. A descriptive trademark lacks distinctive character by definition. Attempts are sometimes made to give such a trademark distinctive character all the same by adding a figurative device or a colour or a shape, for instance, but this is still not always sufficient to be able to register the trademark. Some examples of this are also included below.

    Examples of a lack of distinctive character:

    Descriptive trademarks  

    ‘Certified window cleaner (cwc)’ for window cleaning services.  
    This trademark describes the service for which the applicants seek trademark registration. Adding the abbreviation (cwc) is insufficient to render the trademark distinctive as a whole.

    .nl , .be of .com of @-teken
    Adding top-level domain designations or the @-sign does not render the trademark distinctive as a whole.  
    Figurative devices

    The symbol depicting male/female, without anything further added, for cosmetic products:
    Symbool man en vrouw

    The symbol depicting fragile for packaging:
    Symbool voor breekbaar


    Colours    The colour green for biological food products. 
    Promotional slogan   The slogan ‘We are the best!’ for services.  

    The simple shape of a wine bottle, without anything further added, for wines.
    vorm wijnfles

    Figures   A simple hexagonal outline around a word:
    Zeshoekig kader

Other reasons for the refusal of trademarks

Other reasons for the refusal of trademarks are: 

  1. The mark is deceptiveExample: We cannot register a logo clearly depicting coffee as a trademark for something else (such as tea or sedatives), as it could mislead consumers. 
  2. The mark is a flag, armorial bearings or other official emblem of a State or international organisation, which is protected pursuant to Article 6ter of the Paris Convention. Such trademarks can only be entered in the Trademarks Register with the permission of the relevant State or organisation. Example: A trademark containing the European flag, or parts thereof. 
  3. Trademark law is intended to protect marks which can be used to distinguish the products and services of one company from those of others. Trademark law is not intended to protect marks that should in fact be protected under other intellectual property laws, such as patent or design law. Example:  In general, consumers consider the shape of a chair or lamp to be a design, rather than a trademark, i.e., a mark that indicates the source of the chair or lamp. The law frames this as follows: the shape or another characteristic of a product, such as a sound, cannot be a trademark if it (1) is defined by the nature of the goods, (2) gives a substantial value to the goods, or (3) is necessary to obtain a technical result. In many cases, such a shape or characteristic also lacks distinctive character. 
  4. The mark is contrary to morality or public order
  5. The mark corresponds to a protected geographical indication, a traditional designation for wine, or a guaranteed traditional speciality
  6. The mark consists of or is very similar to an older protected denomination for a plant variety.  

A court of law may also rule that a previously registered trademark is invalid on the above grounds. In that case, it declares the registration null and void.

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How can a descriptive word nevertheless have distinctive character? 

Above, you read the reasons why trademarks are refused.  In most cases, refusal occurs because the trademark is ‘descriptive’.  

Suppose you wish to apply for a word mark, but it is purely descriptive and will therefore be refused. You can add one or more figurative elements to it, in the hope that by doing so your trademark will acquire distinctive character, but when does a figurative element combined with descriptive words provide sufficient distinctive character? BOIP follows a European policy directive to determine whether the figurative element provides sufficient distinctive character.  We have included the most important criteria from this directive in an easy-to-use summary overview for you. 

When you apply for trademark registration, you must indicate for which products or services you intend to use the trademark.  For administrative purposes, all these products and services are organised in categories (classes). The Office determines whether a trademark is distinctive for the classes indicated. For the examples in the table below, we have indicated the class the trademark has been applied for:

"Flavour and Aroma" requires protection for coffee in class 30 
"Fresh sardines" requires protection for sardines in class 29 
"Pest Control Services" requires protection for pest control services in class 37 
"Legal Advice Services" requires protection for legal services in class 45

More information about classification

Figurative elements incorporated in trademark wording 

Type of figurative element  Sufficiently distinctive  Example 
1A - Letter type and font  No, NOT ELIGIBLE for registration: 
A general or common letter type, inscriptions or script letter types – with or without typographic effects (bold, italic). 
Fresh Sardine
1B - Letter type and font  Yes, ELIGIBLE for registration: 
Letter types where the graphic design detracts from the descriptive meaning of the word.  
2A - Colour 

No, NOT ELIGIBLE for registration: 
Solely the addition of a (single) colour to a descriptive word. 

Flavour and aroma

2B - Colour  Yes, ELIGIBLE for registration:  
A particular, unusual arrangement of colours. 
Frash Sardine
3A - Punctuation marks and other symbols 

No, NOT ELIGIBLE for registration:  
Adding a punctuation mark or other symbol does not render a descriptive word mark distinctive. 

3B - Punctuation marks and other symbols 

Yes, ELIGIBLE for registration: 
Use of different punctuation marks / symbols in an unusual manner. 

4A - Position of the words  

No, NOT ELIGIBLE for registration:  
Arrangement of the descriptive words vertically, upside down or over one or more lines is insufficient.  

4B - Position of the words  

Yes, ELIGIBLE for registration:  
A particular arrangement of descriptive words such that the descriptive message is not directly visible.  


Figurative elements added to the mark, separate from the words  

Type of figurative element  Sufficiently distinctive  Example 
5A - Simple geometric figures   No, NOT ELIGIBLE for registration: 
For example, dots, lines, line segments, circles, triangles, squares, rectangles, parallelograms, pentagons, hexagons, trapezia and ellipses, are often insufficient. 
This is certainly true when these shapes are used as a frame or a border.  
5B - Simple geometric figures   Yes, ELIGIBLE for registration: 
The presentation, the configuration or the combination with other elements forms a distinctive whole. 
6A - Figurative device (other than of products or services) 

No, NOT ELIGIBLE for registration: 
The added device is almost imperceptible.  


6B - Figurative device (other than of products or services)  Yes, ELIGIBLE for registration:  
The distinctive device is clearly visible.  
7A - Figurative device showing products and/or services  

No, NOT ELIGIBLE for registration:  

1. The device is descriptive: 

  • realistic image of the products and services, or  
  • stylised image that does not significantly differ from customary representation.  

2. The device is directly linked to the products and services.



7B - Figurative device showing products and/or services  

Yes, ELIGIBLE for registration: 
The device is directly linked to the products and services but is sufficiently stylised.  



8 - Figurative device is conventional for products or services for which the trademark is sought 

No, NOT ELIGIBLE for registration:  
The device is commonly used in commerce for the products or services. 


Both the word and the figurative elements are represented graphically  

 Type of figurative element  Sufficiently distinctive  Example 
9A - Impression of the trademark as a whole   No, NOT ELIGIBLE for registration: 
A combination of figurative and word elements of which both the individual figurative and word elements and the combination thereof are not distinctive.  
9B - Impression of the trademark as a whole   Yes, ELIGIBLE for registration: 
The combination of the different elements detracts sufficiently from a message that is descriptive / lacking in distinctive character.  

Are you unsure whether your trademark qualifies for registration? 

BOIP is an independent body. We provide a lot of information about the possibilities for registering trademarks and designs, but we cannot advise you about your personal situation. If you are having difficulty finding your way, there are of course experts who can assist you. An IP professional can advise you on the best way to protect your trademark or design. They can even take care of the whole registration process for you. You can find contact details of specialists at

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