Federal trademark law helps companies distinguish their products and services from the competition. Trademarks inform consumers of the intent or purpose of the product. Successful trademarks can inseparable from a company’s reputation, identity and brand.
Since trademarks carry significant power, it is important companies consider all their options before deciding. Many different types of trademarks exist, each serving a different purpose and with a different implication.
The 5 types of trademark
Federal law has defined five different trademark categories. As digital products and online marketing continue to change the scope of business and product identification, federal courts may add more types in the future.
When companies explore trademarking products, they can consider the following categories:
- Generic: Generic trademarks are barely trademarks at all and offer little beyond a basic description. Federal law does not allow companies to register generic trademarks, which include words like “truck,” “email” and “laptop.”
- Descriptive: Descriptive trademarks are similar to generic ones in that they are descriptive of the product, and the federal government will not grant exclusive rights. After years of consistent use, some descriptive trademarks earn legal protection, as their trademark has become inseparable from the product in the consumer’s mind. The hotel chain “Holiday Inn” acquired its secondary meaning after years of use.
- Suggestive: Suggestive trademarks borrow from their historical use to imprint characteristics onto a product. For example, using “Greyhound” to describe a transportation service implies speed, sleekness and even loyalty.
- Fanciful: Fanciful trademarks consist of new words that have no previous meaning. This type of trademark often produces the best results as the product will not have to compete for space in a consumer’s mind. Examples include KODAK, Pepsi, Rolex, and Xerox.
- Arbitrary: These often trademarks have a common meaning but also identify an unlike product. A common example is “Apple” as a computer brand.
Register with the federal government
Before registering, the federal government expects companies to use potential trademarks on products or services first. Business owners looking to complete the trademark registration can reach out to a local attorney familiar with intellectual property law.