The Legal Language – Sign

24 March 2022

Have you ever read something and thought, “I’m not sure what that means” or ‘is that really correct”? Welcome to our series of quickfire interviews that attempt to unravel those interesting words and phrases.

In this edition, we speak to Corporate & Commercial Partner and Intellectual Property practice lead Ian Rosenfeld, who talks to us about the word he finds interesting, sign.


Why did I choose this word?

Whilst in ordinary English, a “sign” generally means a clue or an indication of something that has happened or is about to happen, and in mathematics, it means a symbol such as a plus sign, in the trade mark world, a “sign’ has a different meaning.

What’s been the most interesting use of this word that you have come across?

The use of the word “sign” in respect of trade marks is very different to the above general uses. The trade marks legislation in Australia defines a trade mark as being a “sign” used, or intended to be used, to distinguish goods or services provided in the course of trade by one person from the goods or services so dealt with or provided by another person. In this context however, a sign is defined as including the following or any combination of the following, namely, any letter, word, name, signature, numeral, device, brand, heading, label, ticket, aspect of packaging, shape, colour, sound or scent.

When did you first come across this word in a legal context?

I first came across the use of the word “sign” in this context when the Trade Marks Act was amended in 1995. At that time, registerable trade marks were significantly expanded to include some novel items that could thereafter be trade marked, including shapes, colours, sounds or scents.