We all know a picture is worth a thousand words, but did you know a trademark can be worth BILLIONS of dollars? In fact, some of the top trademarks in the world are worth hundreds of billions. What’s the secret to this branding success? A strong trademark!
A trademark serves many purposes. Two of the more important purposes are: (1) identifying the source of a company’s or individual’s goods or services; and (2) indicating to consumers the quality or type of goods or services identified by the mark. Consumers rely on trademarks to make informed decisions about the goods and services they purchase or use.
The strength of a trademark is related to how readily consumers understand that the mark identifies the trademark owner’s goods or services. This is important as strong trademarks better enable their owners to challenge third-party users of similar brands.
Choosing a brand name or logo is an exciting, momentous occasion, but the trademark selection process can be tricky. So, we’ve outlined a few key points on trademark strength to keep in mind when forming your list of potential new brands.
The Varying Degrees of Trademark Strength
The more unique and inventive a trademark is, the stronger it will be.
Fanciful and Arbitrary Marks: Fanciful and arbitrary trademarks are the most distinctive and, thus, the strongest. As a result, they enjoy the broadest protection.
To create a strong trademark, use made-up words to create a fanciful mark, such as BLUZZY for bubblegum, or select an arbitrary word that does not relate to the field of use, like STORM for a marketing company.
You’ll need to put on your thinking cap to create a trademark that will be considered fanciful. Misspellings of descriptive or generic words usually won’t qualify; nor will the foreign-language equivalent of a descriptive term.
Logos can be a fun opportunity to generate original, fanciful brands. Think about including unique shapes, a combination of colors, stylized lettering, and words or letters from different alphabets. Note, though, that combining unique graphics with descriptive wording won’t always give you full protection for the wording.
Suggestive Marks: These marks are the next strongest. They don’t outright state, but instead suggest, qualities or functions of the goods or services. An example is CHEETAH for sports cars.
Descriptive and Generic Terms: On the other end of the spectrum are descriptive and generic terms. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office generally refuses to register such terms because they are incapable of identifying a single source of goods or services. In other words, you will not be able to claim exclusive rights in a word or phrase if it is necessary for others to use that word or phrase to describe similar goods or services. For example, a soda manufacturer probably would not be able to protect the descriptive word FIZZY. Likewise, a food supplier should not expect to be able to stop competitors from using the generic phrase GOURMET FOODS.
Checking What’s Already Out There
One of the most important steps in developing a brand name or logo is to conduct a search to assess its availability and enforceability. The search will help you avoid conflicts with preexisting brands and will tell you whether your new brand will stand out from the crowd. Consider developing a list of four or five names to search at the same time, so that you can choose the best candidate from the list.
Keeping these tips in mind when developing your brand will help you develop a strong source identifier and stay on the smooth track to registration.