You should also consider other important factors when selecting your mark, such as whether the public is likely to be able to remember, pronounce, and spell the selected mark. If you plan to market your goods or services outside the United States under the same mark, consider whether the U.S. mark might have another meaning when translated into a foreign language, particularly if, for example, the translated word could be considered offensive.
The USPTO will also refuse registration of a proposed mark for many other reasons, including if the mark is:
- A surname
- Geographically descriptive of the origin of the goods/services
- A foreign term that translates to a descriptive or generic term
- An individual’s name or likeness
- The title of a single book and/or movie
- A matter that is used in a purely ornamental manner.
While some of these refusals are an absolute bar to registration, you may overcome others by providing evidence under certain circumstances. For more information about these and other possible refusals, see Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) Chapter 1200
In addition to selecting a mark that is not likely to be confused with any pre-existing marks, it is in your best interest to select a mark that is considered “strong” in a legal or trademark sense, i.e., a mark that will most easily allow you to prevent third-party use of your mark. Some marks are easier to protect than others and these are considered “strong” marks.
On the other hand, if a mark is “weak,” it most likely is descriptive and others are already using it to describe their goods or services, making it difficult and costly to try to police and protect. Weak marks should be avoided; they simply do not have the same legal protections of a stronger and more distinctive mark.
Generally, marks fall into one of four categories: fanciful or arbitrary, suggestive, descriptive, or generic. The category your mark falls into will significantly impact both its registrability and your ability to enforce your rights in the mark.
The strongest and most easily protectable types of marks are fanciful marks and arbitrary marks, because they are inherently distinctive. Fanciful marks are invented words with no dictionary or other known meaning. Arbitrary marks are actual words with a known meaning that have no association/relationship with the goods protected. Fanciful and arbitrary marks are registrable and, indeed, are more likely to get registered than are descriptive marks. Moreover, because these types of marks are creative and unusual, it is less likely that others are using them.
Examples of fanciful and arbitrary marks:
Fanciful: BELMICO for “insurance services”
Arbitrary: BANANA for “tires”
Suggestive marks suggest, but do not describe, qualities or a connection to the goods or services. Suggestive marks are registrable and are also considered “strong” marks. If you do not choose a fanciful or arbitrary mark, a suggestive mark is your next best option.
Examples of suggestive marks:
QUICK N’ NEAT for “pie crust”
GLANCE-A-DAY for “calendars”
Descriptive marks are words or designs (e.g., depiction of a television for “television repair services”) that describe the goods and/or services. Such marks are generally considered “weaker” and therefore more difficult to protect than fanciful and arbitrary marks. If the USPTO determines that a mark is “merely descriptive,” then it is not registrable or protectable on the Principal Register unless it acquires distinctiveness– generally through extensive use in commerce over a five-year period or longer. Descriptive marks are considered “weak” until they have acquired distinctiveness.
Applicants often choose (frequently at the suggestion of marketing professionals) descriptive marks for their goods and/or services, believing that such marks reduce the need for expensive consumer education and advertising because consumers can immediately identify the product or service being offered directly from the mark. This approach, while perhaps logical marketing advice, often leads to marks that cannot be easily protected, i.e., to extremely weak trademark rights. That is, a descriptive mark may not be registrable or protectable against later users of identical or similar marks; therefore, adoption of a descriptive mark may end up costing more money in the long term, either due to higher costs to try to police and enforce such a mark, or because it may be legally necessary to stop using the descriptive mark and select a new mark.
Examples of descriptive marks:
CREAMY for “yogurt”
WORLD’S BEST BAGELS for “bagels”
Generic words are the weakest types of “marks” (and cannot even qualify as “marks” in the legal sense) and are never registrable or enforceable against third parties. Because generic words are the common, everyday name for goods and services and everyone has the right to use such terms to refer to their goods and services, they are not protectable. Be aware that if you adopt a generic term to identify your goods or services, you will not be able to prevent others from using it to identify potentially competing products or services. In addition, even a fanciful mark that is very strong can, over time, become generic if the owner either starts using the mark in a nontrademark manner (see ESCALATOR and ASPIRIN examples, below) or fails to police use of its mark properly and take appropriate action. Without proper policing over time, the original owner of a mark could lose any trademark rights it has in the mark.
Examples of generic marks:
Applied-for trademarks that would be considered generic at the time of filing because they are the name of the good or product offered by the service:
BICYCLE for “bicycles” or “retail bicycle stores”
MILK for “a dairy-based beverage”
Trademarks that eventually became generic because of long-term widespread, nontrademark use:
ESCALATOR for “moving staircases,” ASPIRIN for “pain relief medication”
Even if two marks are found to be confusingly similar, a likelihood of confusion will exist only if the goods and/or services upon which or in connection with the marks are used are, in fact, related. Whether the goods and/or services are related is determined by considering the commercial relationship between the goods and/or services identified in the application with those identified in the registration or earlier-filed application. To find relatedness between goods and/or services, the goods and/or services do not have to be identical. It is sufficient that they are related in such a manner that consumers are likely to assume (mistakenly) that they come from a common source. The issue is not whether the actual goods and/or services are likely to be confused but, rather, whether a likelihood of confusion would exist as to the source of the goods and/or services.
The following are examples of related goods and/or services:
To determine whether a likelihood of confusion exists, the marks are first examined for their similarities and differences. Note that in order to find a likelihood of confusion, the marks do not have to be identical. When marks sound alike when spoken, are visually similar, have the same meaning (even if in translation), and/or create the same general commercial impression in the consuming public’s mind, the marks may be considered confusingly similar. Similarity in sound, appearance, and/or meaning may be sufficient to support a finding of likelihood of confusion, depending on the relatedness of the goods and/or services.
The following are examples of marks that would be considered similar:
Although spelled differently, the marks sound alike; i.e., they are “phonetic equivalents.”
The marks look very similar, even though the one on the right uses a stylized font.
The marks are similar because, when the Italian word “LUPO” is translated into English, it means “WOLF.”
Because the marks include the same design element, they create a similar overall commercial impression, even though the one on the right also includes words plus the design.
The marks convey a similar general meaning and produce the same mental reaction.
The USPTO examines every application for compliance with federal law and rules. The most common reason to refuse registration is a “likelihood of confusion” between the mark of the applicant and a mark already registered or in a prior-filed pending application owned by another party. The USPTO determines that a likelihood of confusion exists when both (1) the marks are similar, and (2) the goods and/or services of the parties are related such that consumers would mistakenly believe they come from the same source. Similar marks or related goods/services by themselves are not enough to support a finding of a likelihood of confusion, unless a court has held that the mark is actually a famous mark. That is, generally two identical marks can coexist, so long as the goods and services are not related.
Each application is decided on its own facts and no simple mechanical test is used to determine whether a likelihood of confusion exists. Therefore, before filing your non-refundable application, it is very important for you to determine whether your proposed mark is likely to cause confusion with another mark. This determination can be made only after doing a thorough trademark search.
Once you determine that the type of protection you need is, in fact, trademark protection, then selecting a mark is the very first step in the overall application/registration process. This must be done with thought and care, because not every mark is registrable with the USPTO. Nor is every mark legally protectable. That is, some marks may not be capable of serving as the basis for a legal claim by the owner seeking to stop others from using a similar mark on related goods or services.
Businesses and individuals new to trademarks and the application/ registration process often choose a mark for their product or service that may be difficult or even impossible to register and/or protect for various reasons. Before filing a trademark/service mark application, you should consider (1) whether the mark you want to register is registrable, and (2) how difficult it will be to protect your mark based on the strength of the mark selected. Note in this regard that the USPTO only registers marks. You, as the mark owner, are solely responsible for enforcement.
Below are some factors to consider when choosing a mark. While the USPTO can provide the following general guidance, the agency does not advise you in advance of your filing an application whether your specific mark is registrable.
A domain name is part of a web address that links to the internet protocol address (IP address) of a particular website. For example, in the web address “http://www.uspto.gov,” the domain name is “uspto.gov.” You register your domain name with an accredited domain name registrar, not through the USPTO. A domain name and a trademark differ. A trademark identifies goods or services as being from a particular source. Use of a domain name only as part of a web address does not qualify as source-indicating trademark use, though other prominent use apart from the web address may qualify as trademark use. Registration of a domain name with a domain name registrar does not give you any trademark rights. For example, even if you register a certain domain name with a domain name registrar, you could later be required to surrender it if it infringes someone else’s trademark rights.
Similarly, use of a business name does not necessarily qualify as trademark use, though other use of a business name as the source of goods or services may qualify it as both a business name and a trademark. Many states and local jurisdictions register business names, either as part of obtaining a certificate to do business or as an assumed name filing. For example, in a state where you will be doing business, you might file documents (typically with a state corporation commission or state division of corporations) to form a business entity, such as a corporation or limited liability company. You would select a name for your entity, for example, XYZ, Inc. If no other company has already applied for that exact name in that state and you comply with all other requirements, the state likely would issue you a certificate and authorize you to do business under that name. However, a state’s authorization to form a business with a particular name does not also give you trademark rights and other parties could later try to prevent your use of the business name if they believe a likelihood of confusion exists with their trademarks.
No. Trademarks, copyrights, and patents protect different types of intellectual property. A trademark typically protects brand names and logos used on goods and services. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work. A patent protects an invention. For example, if you invent a new kind of vacuum cleaner, you would apply for a patent to protect the invention itself. You would apply to register a trademark to protect the brand name of the vacuum cleaner. And you might register a copyright for the TV commercial that you use to market the product.
A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.
A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Throughout this booklet, the terms “trademark” and “mark” refer to both trademarks and service marks.