Four Trademark Categories
As a small business or startup, funds are limited, so you need to meet with success when you apply for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Since obtaining trademark protection involves applying, your application could be rejected if another, similar trademark already exists in your area of commercial use (i.e., the industries or commercial areas that you plan on using your mark in), or if your mark is not distinctive enough to warrant trademark protection.
A trademark must be worthy of protection, and as such, four categories of trademarks exist. These categories refer to the strength of the mark, and there is an undeniable correlation between the strength of a trademark, and its likelihood of being approved by a trademark examiner at the USPTO, and thus registered.
When it comes to applying for trademark protection, it is important to understand that some marks are more “trademark worthy” than others, and this is sometimes referred to as the strength of a trademark. The strength of a trademark is tied to how distinctive the mark. Trademarks are often broken down into four categories based on how distinctive the mark is. The more distinctive the trademark is, the more likely that the mark will be granted trademark protection by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The strength of a trademark lies in how the mark is perceived by consumers. There are four categories of trademarks, which include:
- Generic. Generic marks are overly simple marks that carry no special meaning and are thus not a protectable mark at all. Generic marks are usually phrases that simple represent the good or service.
- Descriptive. Whether a descriptive mark is granted trademark protection or not depends on the description of the mark in relation to the product. Descriptive marks are broken down into two groups:
- Merely descriptive marks. Merely descriptive marks simply describe the product and don’t require any thought or imagination to understand what aspect or characteristic of the product or service the mark is trying to convey. A mark cannot simply describe the good or service.
- Secondary meaning. When a descriptive mark develops secondary meaning that is distinctive in the eyes of consumers, then the descriptive mark could be protectable under trademark law. It is often hard to prove secondary meaning, and it usually takes a long time to develop secondary meaning a mark with consumers. When a mark is a surname, the surname must develop secondary meaning to the consumer in order to be trademarkable.
- Suggestive. Suggestive trademarks hint at some aspect or characteristic of the product or service that the mark represents. Suggestive marks are useful for marketing purposes, as they require the consumer to use thought or imagination to understand what the mark is conveying, such as the quality of a product or a characteristic of the product.
- Arbitrary or Fanciful. Arbitrary and fanciful marks are the most distinctive marks because they are so unique or distinctive that it is hard for the mark to represent anything by the product or service it is meant to represent.
- Arbitrary trademarks involve arbitrarily assigning a known word or logo to an unrelated product.
- Fanciful trademarks involve a creative new word that is used solely as a trademark and has no other known meaning.