At its most basic, the trademark definition is simple: Any phrase, symbol, or design that is used to identify goods or services as coming from one particular source and not another. Trademarks can be divided into two categories, unregistered and registered. Both are protected by law, though federally registered trademarks enjoy much broader protection. But can trademarks be divided into different subtypes?

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Arbitrary and Fanciful Trademarks

The strongest trademarks are those that are not in any way connected to the products they’re used on. While arbitrary marks fall beneath fanciful ones on the distinctiveness spectrum, the difference is, for all intent and purposes, cosmetic. Fanciful trademarks are usually terms specifically coined for the purpose of creating a trademark, such as Kodak. Arbitrary marks are existing words or designs used out of context to represent a certain brand, service or item, such as Apple (electronics and software) or Shell (oil industry). The former are usually treated as stronger than the latter, but remain comparable.

Suggestive Trademarks

A step below arbitrary and fanciful, suggestive trademarks are designed to stimulate the imagination of the consumer and assign a particular characteristic to the product. For example, Jaguar and Greyhound are both brands related to automobiles, designed to impart the characteristics of the animals onto the product. Suggestive marks are less distinctive, but can still be registered, though with a lesser enforceability of trademark rights. Since nearly any two terms can be combined, this category offers plenty of examples to answer the question “What is a trademark?”

Descriptive Trademarks

At the bottom of the trademark food chain dangle descriptive trademarks. These directly describe the goods and services, and are generally considered as ineligible for trademarking. The reason is simple. A Candy Coated Apples trademark could be used against competitors offering candy coated apples, greatly limiting the competition. An exception can be granted if the trademark ceased to be associated with a particular product and became associated with the company that produces the product. In effect, it then becomes a suggestive or arbitrary trademark.

Looking to trademark a name, logo, or something else? For more help getting a strong trademark, it’s always best to simply ask a lawyer.

Get started Visit Our Intellectual Property Center Get trademark documents and ask your IP questions.

Get started Visit Our Intellectual Property Center Get trademark documents and ask your IP questions.