Understanding the Varying Strengths of Trademarks

As a business owner, you likely know the importance of having your brand, logo, product names, and other things properly trademarked. What many people don’t realize, however, is that not all trademarks are the same. There are different levels of trademarks, which are stronger or weaker when it comes to being challenged in court. The following are the different types of trademarks, starting with the weakest and going to the strongest.

Generic Marks

Generic trademarks are those that the public already associates with a product or service. A company could not enforce a trademark on the word “phone” for example, because people already associate that term with all types of devices that can be used to take or make calls. Interestingly, some trademarked names have become so commonly associated with their category of product that they have gone from forceful or arbitrary to generic over time. An example of this is Aspirin, which today is associated with pain relievers in general, which can make it hard to enforce in some areas.

Descriptive Marks

Descriptive marks are terms that describe a quality or function of a product that it is being used for. It is often difficult to get a trademark in place of this type, and when you have one, it will be harder to enforce, especially in a broad way. For example, the popular ice cream shop Coldstone Creamery has their name trademarked, but they would not be able to enforce the trademark on another company saying that their ice cream is made at a creamery.

Suggestive Marks

A suggestive trademark suggests the nature of a service or a product, without describing it directly. Netflix, for example, combines two terms (net for Internet and flix for movies) in a way that is clearly associated with the streaming of video through the internet. Even when Netflix was just starting out, it was easy for them to get people to associate their brand with he product they were selling.

Arbitrary Marks

An arbitrary mark is one that uses a word that is commonly used and known throughout a language, but is also directly associated with a brand when used in context. Apple is a prime example of this. Everyone knows that an apple is a fruit, but everyone also knows that when discussing electronics, Apple is the name of a company. If someone is selling an Apple pie, the company would not be able to enforce their trademark. If someone tried to associate the word Apple with an electronic device or something related, they could easily prevent them from doing so thanks to this type of trademark.

Forceful Marks

A forceful trademark, which is also sometimes called a coined trademark, is the strongest because it is very distinctive. These are often business names that did not, prior to the business’s existence, have any significant meaning in the culture. A prime example of this can be seen with ROLEX watches. When someone hears the word ROLEX, they almost universally associate it with fine watches. This means if another company tried to use that name for their products, the ROLEX company would almost certainly be able to stop them under trademark law.

Get the Trademark Help You Need

Whether you are looking to trademark a term, or you need to enforce an existing trademark, you will need experienced legal help. Contact Aftermarket to discuss your situation and let us help you through this important process.

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