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-
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-
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-
Creation of a Distinctive Mark
When creating trademarks (brand names, domain names, tag lines, slogans, non-
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:
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!
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