The right trademark is an essential protection for your company’s brand, but it can also increase awareness of your brand in the minds of consumers. While the prospect of choosing a good trademark can be intimidating, you’re likely already using a good logo, slogan, words, or other mark to identify your business to consumers.
To select a good trademark for registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), look at the marks you’re already using to identify your business. List out those potential marks so you can assess them for uniqueness and distinctiveness. Avoid using generic or descriptive terms and surnames in your trademarks.
When it comes time to trademark a business name, slogan, or logo, look at the marks you’re already using in the course of doing business. If you’re ready to file for a federal trademark registration, chances are you’ve already been doing business using a specific logo, slogan, and business name or brand name for a while. A normal trademark application with the USPTO requires applicants to provide examples of how they have been using their proposed trademark in commerce. So look at the logos you put on your product packaging, the slogan(s) you use in advertising, your business name, and your brand names to find prospective trademarks. Make a list of your prospective trademarks so you can check them for uniqueness and distinctiveness.
Your trademark should be completely unique, and not similar to another trademark at all. If you file for trademark registration and the USPTO finds that your trademark is too similar to another company’s trademark, then your application will be denied. You can search the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to make sure your trademark isn’t similar to any other existing trademarks. You have to make sure to search not just for your exact logo, brand name, slogan and other marks, but for marks that are similar but not exactly the same. It can be worthwhile to hire a trademark attorney or another trademark professional to help you navigate the registration process, because while filing an application is pretty straightforward, determining the uniqueness of your marks can be complex.
Distinctive trademarks are more registrable and therefore more likely to be approved. A distinctive trademark should be suggestive, fanciful, or arbitrary. A suggestive trademark is one that suggests something about the brand, without coming right out and saying what it is. For example, the Nike Swoosh® suggests the speed runners will find when they wear Nike shoes.
A fanciful trademark is a word that was completely invented to describe a product or service. The word Pepsi® is a fanciful trademark, because the word Pepsi® was completely made up to describe the soda. Other examples of fanciful trademarks include Exxon®, Kodak®, and Verizon®.
An arbitrary trademark is a word that has nothing to do with the product or services covered by the trademark. For example, the word Apple® as a trademark is arbitrary because the fruit has nothing to do with smartphones or computers. Other good examples of arbitrary trademarks include Camel® cigarettes and Shell® gas stations. Camels don’t have anything to do with tobacco and shells don’t have anything to do with gas. That makes the use of these words as trademarks distinctive and unique.
When coming up with a term to use as a registered trademark for your business, avoid generic terms related to your goods or services, as well as terms that describe your goods and services. For example, if you sell hand-knitted sweaters for hairless cats, you can’t just trademark that term. Words and phrases that are too generic and descriptive can’t be trademarked because other business owners might need to use those generic and descriptive words and phrases to market their own products and services. Nor will customers find trademarks with generic or descriptive terms to be all that memorable or distinctive.
You can’t use surnames in trademarks for much the same reason you can’t use generic or descriptive terms – someone else might have the same surname and may want to also do business under it. Trademarks that include surnames tend to be too descriptive, anyway.
Choosing a good trademark isn’t always easy. Think about the logos and slogans you already use – is there anything that is truly distinctive? You’re aiming for a trademark that’s creative and unique – and one that will make your customers remember your brand for a long time.