Types of Trademarks and Their Level of Protection

You might know this already but a trademark can be a word, name, symbol, logo, sound or even smell that identifies or distinguishes your brand from others. But did you know that there are different types of trademarks, and that some offer more protection than others?

When selecting a trademark you want to avoid the “likelihood of confusion” with other marks. If your mark is similar to another that provides the same or similar goods or services, then customers may confuse the two businesses. This is obviously something you want to avoid as this may create problems down the road.

I’m going to break them down a bit now and give you a brief description of each.

The mark with typically the least amount of protection is the generic mark. These are marks that use everyday day words, such as “table”, “coffee,” “boat”, et cetera in their name when providing goods or services that are synonymous or somewhat synonymous to that generic name. Many times, and depending on the circumstances, generic trademarks will not be approved by the USPTO.

The next type of mark is called a descriptive mark. These are marks that describe a good or service. For example, the term COMFORTABLE when describing a chair, or the “BEST” when describing a snack food. This type of mark can only be registered if it acquires some distinctiveness. Generally it has to be highly used in commerce for at least five years before getting trademark approval. We often discourage this type of mark because of the time, effort, and the amount of money it takes to police itsuse.

The next is the suggestive mark. These marks do not actually describe the product but suggest a characteristic. For example, the automobile company Jaguar is a suggestive mark. It suggests that the car is fast and agile, like a Jaguar. Another example is KitchenAid. These are products that “aid” in the kitchen. A suggestive mark is often approved as Trademark.

Then there’s the arbitrary mark. These are marks that use common words, but identify with a product or service that is totally unrelated. The best example is the technology company Apple. Apple deals in electronics, not fruit. In situations like this, a trademark is generally approved.

The final type, and the strongest one with the most protection, is the fanciful mark. These are marks that use made up or imaginative words or phrases to describe something. Nike is one example. Other examples are Xerox, Exxon, and Polaroid. By using a fanciful mark you will give your business the highest level of protection.

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