Picking the Right Trademark

Registered Trademark Symbol

When you create a brand name, the relative strength of the words you choose directly affects how well you will be able to protect the goodwill your brand builds.

When The Home Depot was getting off the ground in 1979, its founders searched for just the right name. They rejected choices like MB's Warehouse, Homeplace and Bad Bernie's Buildall in favor of the name that is now synonymous with hardware.

How did they do it? An associate was driving past a restaurant made out of an old railroad car. She was looking for words that sounded good with "home" and The Home Depot was one of the choices that popped into her head.

Combining two words that are compatible with your product or service is one way to come up with a trademark. But keep in mind that not all trademarks can be protected under the law and registered with the federal Patent and Trademark Office.

A mark is protectable if it is sufficiently distinctive from another trademark that identifies a similar product or service. It can be a word, a symbol or a picture. Ordinary names receive little, if any, protection under trademark law and can't be federally registered.

The Strongest Categories Include:

Fanciful - These words are made up and have no purpose other than to identify a brand of goods or services. Examples are Kodak film and Xerox copiers.

Arbitrary - These are real words, but used differently from their ordinary meaning. Examples are Apple computers, Dial soap and Mercury cars.

Suggestive - These are real words that suggest, but don't actually describe, qualities, characteristics or functions of the product or service. For example, Greyhound Bus lines suggests speed. These marks don't always receive the broad rights that fanciful or arbitrary marks enjoy but they are usually entitled to federal registration. And their owners may be able to exclude identical or similar marks in the same or related markets.

The Weakest Category Is:

Descriptive - These simply describe the qualities, characteristics, functions or geographic origin of goods or services. For example, The TV Repair Store or the Twin City Cleaning Supply Company. The problem with these trademarks is they can only be protected if they show a secondary meaning.

Some Words Can't be Protected:

Generic words - Stay away from words that are associated with goods or services but don't have any other identifying features. If you pick a name like "aspirin," for example, you receive no trademark protection.

Searching for the right name for your products and services is not a simple task. Get legal help to ensure the name is properly registered after a search of existing trademarks has been completed.

Advice: Choose a unique trademark to protect your company. The more distinctive it is, the easier it will be to exclude similar trademarks from the marketplace.

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