Trademarks play a vital role in distinguishing products or services in the marketplace, and they are typically associated with logos, brand names, or slogans. However, as businesses continue to innovate and seek unique ways to distinguish themselves, the concept of unconventional trademarks has gained prominence. Unconventional trademarks go beyond the traditional elements and encompass non-traditional signs such as colors, sounds, smells, shapes, and even holograms. This article explores the registration process and limitations of unconventional trademarks in India while highlighting the need for progress in this area.

Types of Unconventional Trademarks


Color Trademarks

Color trademarks represent a unique category of unconventional marks where a specific color or combination of colors is used to identify a brand or product. Examples include the distinctive magenta shade of telecommunications company T-Mobile or the vibrant red of the sole used by Christian Louboutin shoes. Color trademarks often require acquired distinctiveness, proving that the color has become inherently associated with the brand in the minds of consumers.

  • Sound Trademarks

Sound trademarks are auditory marks that use specific sounds, jingles, or musical notes to distinguish a brand or product. Familiar examples include the NBC chimes or the iconic Intel sound logo. Sound marks often face challenges in their graphical representation for registration purposes, but audio files or musical notations can be submitted to depict the sound accurately.

  • Shape Trademarks

Shape trademarks involve the protection of unique product shapes or packaging designs that serve as identifiers. The Coca-Cola bottle and Toblerone’s triangular chocolate bar packaging are examples of shape trademarks. For registration, the shape must possess distinctive features and have acquired secondary meaning in the marketplace, indicating a strong association with the brand.

  • Motion Trademarks

Motion trademarks involve moving images, animations, or specific motion sequences that are used to identify a brand or product. They can be represented by video clips, series of images, or detailed descriptions. An example is the animated lion roaring at the beginning of MGM movies. Motion trademarks add a dynamic and engaging element to brand recognition.

  • Hologram Trademarks

Hologram trademarks utilize three-dimensional images or holographic representations to create distinctive brand identifiers. Holograms can provide a unique visual experience and captivate consumers. Examples include the rotating hologram of the BMW logo or the holographic images used on credit cards for enhanced security.

  • Scent Trademarks

Scent trademarks are olfactory marks that use specific scents or smells to represent a brand or product. While less common and more challenging to register, some scents have achieved trademark protection. For instance, the scent of Play-Doh has been recognized as a distinctive and protectable trademark. Establishing distinctiveness and graphical representation are significant hurdles in registering scent trademarks.

  • Touch trademarks

Touch trademarks are also known as tactile trademarks, are a type of unconventional trademark that rely on the sense of touch to create a distinctive brand identity. These trademarks seek to protect the tactile elements associated with a product or service, rather than traditional visual representations.

  • Taste Trademarks

Taste trademarks are an emerging category that seeks to protect specific flavors or taste profiles associated with a product or brand. While challenging to register due to subjectivity and lack of clear guidelines, some companies have made attempts to protect taste trademarks. However, the nature of taste presents difficulties in providing graphical representation and satisfying the distinctiveness requirements.

Limitations and Challenges

While India recognizes unconventional trademarks, the requirement of graphical representation and distinctiveness plays an important role in registration of any trademark, let’s understand how:

Graphical Representation Requirement

One of the primary challenges in registering unconventional trademarks in India lies in the graphical representation requirement. According to the Trademarks Act, 1999, trademarks must be capable of being represented graphically to be eligible for registration. This poses difficulties for marks that rely on non-visual elements such as sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations.

For sound trademarks, the graphical representation requirement demands a visual depiction of the sound, which may not adequately capture the auditory essence. While technological advancements have made it possible to represent sounds in digital formats, the requirement for a graphical representation remains a significant hurdle.

Similarly, for scent or taste trademarks, the graphical representation requirement becomes almost impossible to fulfill. These sensory experiences are challenging to depict visually, making it difficult to meet the registration criteria.

Distinctiveness Requirement

Another major challenge for unconventional trademarks in India is the requirement of distinctiveness. Trademarks, including unconventional ones, must possess inherent or acquired distinctiveness to be registered. The distinctiveness requirement aims to ensure that consumers can associate the mark exclusively with a particular brand or source of goods or services.

Proving distinctiveness for unconventional marks can be particularly challenging. Unconventional trademarks often deviate from traditional visual signs, leading to a higher burden of proof to establish consumer recognition and association. Demonstrating acquired distinctiveness through extensive and exclusive use over time can be arduous, especially for newer market entrants or smaller businesses.

The Need for Reforms

To address the challenges faced by unconventional trademarks in India, certain reforms and adaptations are necessary.

Flexible Representation Standards: The graphical representation requirement should evolve to accommodate non-visual elements. Regulatory authorities should consider alternative forms of representation, such as digital formats, audio recordings, or olfactory profiles, to adequately capture the essence of unconventional marks.

Clearer Guidelines and Precedents: The Indian Trademarks Office should establish clearer guidelines and precedents for the distinctiveness of unconventional trademarks. These guidelines should consider the unique characteristics of non-traditional marks and provide a framework for assessing their distinctiveness consistently.

Sensory Experts and Technology Integration: The involvement of sensory experts and the integration of advanced technologies, such as scent or taste profiling, can aid in the assessment of unconventional trademarks. Expert opinions and scientific evidence can provide valuable insights into the distinctiveness and consumer recognition of non-visual marks.


Unconventional trademarks offer a unique way for businesses to distinguish themselves in a competitive marketplace. However, the registration and protection of unconventional trademarks in India face significant challenges due to the requirements of graphical representation and distinctiveness. The inability to adequately represent non-visual elements and the demanding burden of proving distinctiveness restrict the scope of protection for these marks. This hampers innovation, limits economic opportunities, and creates uncertainty for businesses seeking to differentiate themselves in the market. By addressing these aspects, India can foster a more robust system for protecting non-traditional signs, ensuring that businesses can fully leverage the potential of unconventional trademarks in the evolving global marketplace.

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