Types of Trademarks

Trademarks can be in the form of words, phrases, graphic designs, or combinations of these elements

Trademarks identify the source of products, service marks identify the source of services, and trade names identify businesses, although the same words may be used in each instance. 

Certification marks are used to certify that the goods or services of others have certain characteristics (e.g., "UL Listed" allows consumers to identify products that meet quality criteria set by some entity other than the manufacturer). 

Collective marks are trademarks owned by an organization (e.g., an association), whose members use the marks to identify themselves with a level of quality or accuracy, geographical origin, or other characteristics set by the organization (e.g., "CPA" is used to indicate members of a society of Certified Public Accountants).

The more unique and distinctive the mark, the easier it is to protect. 

Fanciful marks are made up words that have no meaning, aside from identifying a source of goods and services.  Examples of fanciful marks include Nike, Exxon, Xerox and Kodak. 

Arbitrary marks are common words used in an uncommon and unexpected manner.  Apple Computers is an example of an arbitrary mark. 

Suggestive marks suggest a characteristic of goods and services without actually describing the goods and services.  Some contemplation is required to make the connection between the mark and the goods and services.  Greyhound Lines is an example of a suggestive mark. 

Descriptive marks are words that describe the nature or characteristics of the goods or services. You may not be able to prevent others from using the same or a confusingly similar descriptive mark. Virginia Ham and Richmond Tire are examples of descriptive marks. 

To register a descriptive mark, secondary meaning is required.  Secondary meaning is established when a mark has acquired distinctiveness (i.e., when consumers come to associate a particular source with a good or a service).  To make a claim of distinctiveness, an applicant has to show exclusive and continuous use of a mark in commerce for five years

Surnames are typically treated as descriptive and thus are not subject to trademark protection unless the name acquires distinctiveness.  Dell Computers is an example of a surname that has acquired distinctiveness, or secondary meaning.

Generic words are actual names of products or services, and thus are incapable of becoming a trademark. 

Additional things that cannot be registered as trademarks include: scandalous or immoral marks, deceptive marks, geographically descriptive or misdescriptive marks, certain disparaging marks, certain marks associated with a living individual, and marks that include government indicia

For a list of marks that cannot be registered, see reasons for refusing marks on the Trademark Prosecution page. 

If you have a question about types of trademarks, askme at thedford@askmeip.com.