Weak Marks v. Strong Marks

Being able to associate a product or service with a strong trademark supported by ®  to designate a federally registered trademark is a strong business tool. Picking a weak mark can be a bad strategy because competitors may be able to use the mark as well (quoting from Coach/Braunsdorl Affinity v. 12 Interactive  (TTAB 2014)):

 In analyzing these purported instances of actual confusion, [ ] where petitioner has adopted a weak mark, "his competitors may come closer to his mark than would be the case with a strong mark without violating his rights." Kenner Parker Toys, Inc. v. Rose Art Indus., Inc., 963 F.2d 350, 22 USPQ2d 1453, 1456 (Fed. Cir. 1992), quoting Sure-Fit Products Company v. Saltzson Drapery Company, 117 USPQ at 296. "If any confusion results, that is a risk the plaintiff accepted when it decided to identify the product with a mark that uses a well-known descriptive phrase." KP Permanent v. Lasting Impression, 543 U.S. 111, 72 USPQ2d 1833, 1838 (2004). See also Milwaukee Nut Co. v. Brewster Food Service, 277 F.2d 190, 125 USPQ 399, 401 (CCPA 1960) ("appellee, in adopting a word which is highly suggestive to the trade in which it was catering, ran the risk of having similar merchandise sold by others for the same purpose to the same trade offered to the witness when he requested 'BEER NUTS.'"); Bass Pro Trademarks, LLC v. Sportsman's Warehouse, Inc., 89 USPQ2d 1844, 1857 (TTAB 2008) ("when a business adopts a mark, or a portion of a mark incorporating a descriptive term, it assumes the risk that competitors may also use that descriptive term.").


An inherently distinctive trademark is a strong trademark, the more distinctive, the stronger the mark. An inherently distinctive trademark may be registered on the USPTO Trademark Principal Register, qualifies for more protection under more federal, state and common law (even if unregistered) and is stronger for use in business to promote authenticity and for expanding product lines. The stronger the trademark the greater protection received from the courts. Nike, Inc. v. Just Did It Enterprises, 6 F.3d at 1231 (C.A.7 (Ill.), 1993) quoting Squirtco v. Seven-Up Co., 628 F.2d at 1091 (8th Cir.1980).


If a trademark is not inherently distinctive (such as a mark that is merely descriptive or generic), it is hard to protect from competitive use. At best, a merely descriptive trademark may only potentially be registered on either the USPTO Federal Principal Register after 5 years of acquired distinctiveness with the proper evidence or on the Supplemental Register. See Comparison  for the advantages of federal registration and the differences between the two registers.


According to the USPTO, the two major reasons for not protecting [allowing registration of] merely descriptive marks are:  (1) to prevent the owner of a mark from inhibiting competition in the sale of particular goods or services; and (2) to avoid the possibility of costly infringement suits brought by the registrant.  This thus enables businesses and competitors to have the freedom to use common descriptive language when merely describing their own goods or services to the public in advertising and marketing materials.  In re Abcor Development Corp., 588 F.2d 811, 200 USPQ 215 (C.C.P.A. 1978); In re Colonial Stores, Inc., 394 F.2d 549, 157 USPQ 382, 383 (C.C.P.A. 1968); Armour & Co. v. Organon Inc., 245 F.2d 495, 114 USPQ 334, 337 (C.C.P.A. 1957); In re Styleclick.com Inc., 58 USPQ2d 1523, 1526-1527 (TTAB 2001); In re Styleclick.com Inc., 57 USPQ2d 1445, 1448 (TTAB 2000).



Creation of a Distinctive Mark

When creating trademarks (brand names, domain names, tag lines, slogans, non-functional and distinctive packaging and labeling designs, etc.), it is best to pick distinctive (non-descriptive at least in part) non-infringing words, phrases and designs. Obtaining a registered trademark is relatively inexpensive, lawsuits are not.


When creating trademarks, one essential requirement in order to be registrable on the USPTO Trademark Principal Register is that the trademark is distinctive. What is a distinctive name for the purposes of obtaining a trademark from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is found in the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) in Section 1209.01.


Distinctiveness is the opposite of descriptiveness for trademark purposes. The distinctiveness of trademarks varies along a continuum (often depending on use) from being highly distinctive (or inherently distinctive) to being merely descriptive or generic. Highly distinctive marks that are arbitrary, fanciful or suggestive are registrable on the USPTO Trademark Principal Register. Marks that are merely descriptive matter may potentially be considered to be registered on the Principal Register if they have acquired distinctiveness with Secondary Meaning (must be proven with evidence and at least 5 years of use). Generic marks (common or class names for goods or services) are not registrable as trademarks under either the Principal or Supplemental Register. Composite marks, mark that are partly descriptive or generic and partly suggestive, arbitrary or fanciful, may be registrable on the Principal Register with the descriptive or generic part disclaimed for exclusive use.


 

The terms are further defined in TMEP 1209.01: “Fanciful marks comprise terms that have been invented for the sole purpose of functioning as a trademark or service mark. Such marks comprise words that are either unknown in the language (e.g., PEPSI, KODAK, EXXON) or are completely out of common usage (e.g., FLIVVER).”

“Arbitrary marks comprise words that are in common linguistic use but, when used to identify particular goods or services, do not suggest or describe a significant ingredient, quality or characteristic of the goods or services (e.g., APPLE for computers; OLD CROW for whiskey).”

“A mark is considered merely descriptive if it describes an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose or use of the specified goods or services.”

“Generic terms are terms that the relevant purchasing public understands primarily as the common or class name for the goods or services.”

“Suggestive marks are those that, when applied to the goods or services at issue, require imagination, thought or perception to reach a conclusion as to the nature of those goods or services. Thus, a suggestive term differs from a descriptive term, which immediately tells something about the goods or services. . . .Suggestive marks, like fanciful and arbitrary marks, are registrable on the Principal Register without proof of secondary meaning. Therefore, a designation does not have to be devoid of all meaning in relation to the goods/services to be registrable.”



PLAN FOR A SUCCESSFUL, STRONG TRADEMARK

To verify a potential trademark is strong, is available to use, and is ready to register, the process should be more than a direct hit federal search. To maximize the commercial strength and minimize the weaknesses of a trademark, we start with these five steps:

1) Verify Inherent Strength (this avoids merely descriptive, geographically descriptive, likelihood of confusion and other office actions),

2) Verify Right to Use, (this avoids likelihood of confusion refusal office actions and others)

3) Verify Right to Register, (this avoids many types of refusals including merely descriptive, deceptively misdescriptive, geographically descriptive and others that can often be predicted)

 4) Verify the potential mark (as currently used) Functions As A Mark, and (this avoids specimen refusals, trade name refusals, and others. The USPTO is looking for valid use not just any use of a mark.)

5) Verify that the Goods and Services ID is both the correct and the maximum claim that are user can make and verify that the Goods and Services ID meets USPTO requirements before filing. (This avoids office actions to correct incorrect IDs  which can slow down a registration. Incorrect IDs  may be corrected during the prosecution of a trademark if they do not materially alter the mark or the ID. Correcting problems before application saves time and money. Filing in a new class after an application has been submitted to cure a problem ID is the same price as a new application in that class.)

*We don’t stop here but this is a good start!


Call us at 1-651-500-7590   for a Strong Trademark. A Strong Trademark is Not Just a tool to increase sales to customers–it is also easier to sell to your investors & licensees.


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For more information from Not Just Patents, see our other sites:      

Steps to a Patent    How to Patent An Invention

Should I Get A Trademark or Patent?

Trademark e Search    Strong Trademark     Enforcing Trade Names

Common Law Trademarks  Trademark Goodwill   Abandoned Trademarks

Patentability Evaluation

Chart of Patent vs. Trade Secret

Patent or Trademark Assignments

Trademark Disclaimers   Trademark Dilution     TSDR Status Descriptors

Oppose or Cancel? Examples of Disclaimers  Business Name Cease and Desist

Sample Patent, Trademark & Copyright Inventory Forms

Verify a Trademark  Be First To File    How to Trademark Search

Are You a Content Provider-How to Pick an ID  Specimens: webpages

How to Keep A Trade Secret

State & Federal Trade Secret Laws

Using Slogans (Taglines), Model Numbers as Trademarks

Which format? When Should I  Use Standard Characters?

Shop Rights  What is a Small or Micro Entity?

Patent Drawings

Opposition Pleadings    UDRP Elements    

Oppositions-The Underdog

How To Answer A Trademark Cease and Desist Letter

Converting Provisional to Nonprovisional Patent Application (or claiming benefit of)

Trademark Refusals    Does not Function as a Mark Refusals

How to Respond to Office Actions

What is a Compact Patent Prosecution?

Acceptable Specimen       Supplemental Register   $199 Statement of Use

How To Show Acquired Distinctiveness Under 2(f)

Patent search-New invention

Patent Search-Non-Obvious

Trademark Attorney for Overcoming Office Actions Functional Trademarks   How to Trademark     

What Does ‘Use in Commerce’ Mean?    

Grounds for Opposition & Cancellation     Cease and Desist Letter

Trademark Incontestability  TTAB Manual (TBMP)

Valid/Invalid Use of Trademarks     Trademark Searching

TTAB/TBMP Discovery Conferences & Stipulations

TBMP 113 Service of TTAB Documents  TBMP 309 Standing

Examples and General Rules for Likelihood of Confusion

USPTO Search Method for Likelihood of Confusion

Examples of Refusals for Likelihood of Confusion   DuPont Factors

What are Dead or Abandoned Trademarks?

 Can I Use An Abandoned Trademark?

Color as Trade Dress  3D Marks as Trade Dress  

Can I Abandon a Trademark During An Opposition?

Differences between TEAS and TEAS plus  

How do I Know If Someone Has Filed for An Extension of Time to Oppose?

Ornamental Refusal  Standard TTAB Protective Order

SCAM Letters Surname Refusal


What Does Published for Opposition Mean?

What to Discuss in the Discovery Conference

Descriptive Trademarks Trademark2e.com  

Likelihood of Confusion 2d

Acquired Distinctiveness  2(f) or 2(f) in part

Merely Descriptive Trademarks  

Merely Descriptive Refusals

ID of Goods and Services see also Headings (list) of International Trademark Classes

Register a Trademark-Step by Step  

Protect Business Goodwill Extension of Time to Oppose

Geographically Descriptive or Deceptive

Change of Address with the TTAB using ESTTA

Likelihood of confusion-Circuit Court tests

Pseudo Marks    How to Reply to Cease and Desist Letter

Not Just Patents Often Represents the Underdog

 Overcome Merely Descriptive Refusal   Overcome Likelihood Confusion

Protecting Trademark Rights (Common Law)

Steps in a Trademark Opposition Process   

Section 2(d) Refusals   FilingforTrademark.com

Zombie Trademark  

What is the Difference between Principal & Supplemental Register?

Typical Brand Name Refusals  What is a Family of Marks? What If Someone Files An Opposition Against My Trademark?

How to Respond Office Actions  

DIY Overcoming Descriptive Refusals

Trademark Steps Trademark Registration Answers TESS  

Trademark Searching Using TESS  Trademark Search Tips

Trademark Clearance Search   DIY Trademark Strategies

Published for Opposition     What is Discoverable in a TTAB Proceeding?

Counterclaims and Affirmative Defenses


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