Trademark Tips - How To Select Strong Trademarks

By: Elias Borges, patent & trademark lawyer.

Trademarks are the most important asset your business will ever own. A good trademark distinguishes you from the competition and helps you stand out in a crowd. A poor trademark will blunt your marketing effort and might even entangle you in legal disputes. Selecting a good, distinctive and legally strong mark is the first step in building brand equity. Selecting a legally strong trademark is as simple as following these simple rules.

    Avoid Trademarks that cannot be Registered.

    There is no point investing in a trademark that you can’t register. Registering the mark protects it from competitors, ensures your ownership rights in the mark and makes it easier to enforce your rights against copy cats. As you will read below, certain types of words are inherently poor choices as trademarks because they cannot be registered.

    Avoid Surnames

    Surnames cannot be registered as trademarks. Hence the mark “Wilson Power Boats” is a poor choice for a trademark because the word Wilson is a surname (and the rest of the mark is descriptive).

    Avoid Confusing Trademarks

    A trademark which is confusingly similar to a registered trademark cannot be registered. Hence, the mark “Sun-Screen” cannot be registered if the trademark “Sun Screen” has already been registered for a similar type of product. A search of the US Trademarks Database and/or the Canadian Trademarks Database is a good idea.

    Avoid Purely Descriptive Words

    Words which describe the nature or quality of the goods or services sold with the mark are not permitted to be registered. Hence, the mark “Cold Beer” for use with malt beverages cannot be registered because it describes the actual product being sold. If registered, it would prevent anyone from using the terms Cold and Beer to describe a malt beverage.

    Avoid Generic Words in a Trade mark

    The goal is to select a trademark which is as unique and distinctive as possible; therefore, avoid generic words. Examples of generic words include “green, superior, American, Canadian, deluxe, gold, economy, premium” and a plethora of others. If you incorporate generic words into your trademark, then you blend into the crowd, not stand out in front of it. Geographic words fall into this category.

    Avoid TLA’s (Three Letter Acronyms) and Numbers

    IBM, CNN and ATT are distinctive trademarks because their respective owners invested tens of millions of dollars into making the marks famous. Even a poor trademark can be made famous if you through enough money at it. But acronyms are intrinsically difficult to remember, while words, especially colorful words, are easily remembered. Hence “ELS System Solutions” is not as memorable as “Volcanic Silicon.” Likewise, avoid using numbers in a trademark as they tend to be less memorable. Furthermore, there are a limited number of unused acronyms available, so there is an excellent chance that your TLA will be confused with another.

    Use animal or plant names

    Animal and plant names tend to be quite memorable and, if used correctly, can convey a good image while still being distinctive. APPLE COMPUTERS, TIGER DIRECT, and Ford MUSTANG, are good examples.

    Use invented words

    Invented words are words which do not exist in any language, apart from your trademark. Examples include SPANDEX, EXXON, KODAK, VIAGRA, and several other famous trademarks. Invented words are a good choice because they tend to be quite distinctive. You can create an invented word by simply combining parts of other words. For example, MICROSOFT is a combination of “Micro computer” and “software.”

    Be as Distinctive (Unique) as Possible

    Finally, make sure that the first word in your trademark is as distinctive and unique as possible. It is often necessary to add descriptive words to the trademark in order to convey what is being sold or marketed in association with the mark. If generic words must be included, then it is vital that the first word of the mark be as distinctive as possible.

If you would like additional information on trade-marks, then make sure to check out our trademark information page. If you have any questions, or if you would like to talk to one of our trademark lawyers, then go to our contact page for emails and phone numbers.