The Four Types of Trademarks

When your company has an extensive portfolio of trademarks the actual value of the company can skyrocket. Trademarks are considered actual assets. Holding protected and distinctive intellectual property will help you stand out from the crowd and set you up for great success in your field.

What many professionals don’t realize is that there are several different types of trademarks. These four categories also determine how strong the protection of a mark is.

  • Generic
  • Descriptive
  • Suggestive
  • Arbitrary or Fanciful

From top to bottom, these go from the weakest to the strongest. Understanding how each of these trademarks is or isn’t protected could help you establish long-running intellectual property protection for yourself and your business.

Generic Trademarks

The weakest level of protection is provided to generic marks. In fact, these often don’t get any protection at all and will be declined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Generic terms won’t earn trademark protection as this would cause too much confusion over common terms and allows companies to monopolize language.

The manner in which terms are used can allow for some wiggle room on “generic” terms – as was the case when Ohio State University recently was rewarded a trademark for the word “THE.” We’ve already used “the” in this blog and will continue to do so because that’s not an infringement on the generic term – OSU achieved the trademark because of the way the school often emphatically says “THE” Ohio State University.

Descriptive Trademarks

Descriptive marks are the next level and are afforded more protection – with a catch. Descriptive trademarks are terms that describe the company or product it represents, but they must have at least one secondary meaning beyond simply just describing the product. The USPTO office will decline any applications that fall short of the secondary meaning.

For example, if an automotive company simply attempts to trademark “Fast Car” they’re not going to receive protection. It simply describes the speed of the car. However, Dodge “Charger” has received trademark protection because the term not only describes the speed and strength of the car but has established a model of vehicles with a distinctive and memorable design.

Suggestive Trademarks

These trademarks are similar to descriptive trademarks, but they don’t require secondary meaning because they describe something about the product in an indirect way. This means the customer has to use their imagination to bridge the gap between the mark and the product.

An example here can be found in streaming services and “Netflix.” It’s not immediately clear, but when you break down the mark you realize “Net” refers to the internet and “flix” refers to the movies and shows on the service – thus creating the mark for a streaming service.

Arbitrary or Fanciful Trademarks

The strongest protection for trademarks comes when there is no related meaning or description for the mark. In this case, the term will either be completely made up (fanciful) or will be a common word or phrase that has no association with the actual product or company (arbitrary).

“Google” is an example of a made-up word that is considered fanciful while “Apple” is an example of an arbitrary mark as it has no direct connection to the technologies created by the tech giant.

Establishing a trademark portfolio and strategy could put your company above the rest. If you’re concerned your application will be denied or need help going through the application process, Alvarez Law Group can help. Contact our team and make sure your trademark strategy is going in the right direction.

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