Choosing a strong trademark name for a product or service is often one of the last steps that businesses and entrepreneurs take when realizing their economic ventures into fruition. Yet, it is one step that should not be overlooked. It is important to choose a name that can stand the test of time, appeals to you and the demographic you are trying to reach, and that is distinctive and unique from other products or businesses in the market. When it comes to the law, choosing a strong trademark name also grants you certain protections that may not be afforded to those who choose weaker ones. But, what does it mean for a name to be “strong” or “weak”?
For trademark names to be strong, they must be distinctive, unique, and possess marketable strength. When coming up with an idea for a name, the human mind initially gravitates toward description. Descriptive names like “Fresh Market” for a grocery store have the appeal of connoting a positive experience for grocery shoppers, but names like these are far from strong and cannot be protected to the fullest extent. It is for this reason there are hundreds of grocery/food stores with the word “Fresh” in them.
Distinctive and unique names like Apple for a technology company are, by contrast, much stronger. Although named “Apple”, the company itself has nothing to do with fruit or food. By creating a seemingly arbitrary name, Apple easily distinguishes itself from other technology companies and assists consumers in differentiating their products from other companies in the same market. The distinctive name also provides greater legal protection, as other technology companies cannot legally use a similar sounding name, such as Appel or APL, without infringing upon the rights of Apple.
Infringement of trademark rights is measured by the likelihood that the name will cause confusion to the public. By choosing more distinctive and unique company/product names, businesses and individuals will be allowed a greater range of trademark protection against infringement. Additionally, unique names leave a deeper impression in the mind of consumers. A company name such as “Shell” for oil, or “Camel” for cigarettes, is easily distinguishable by the public and lingers in their mind longer than generic names.
Sometimes, companies or brands with weak names overcome the odds through dedicated care and effort on the part of the business owner. Examples of weak names that are now famous and well recognized by the public include American Airlines and Kentucky Fried Chicken, names that are merely descriptive of a geographical location. These businesses risked having their names made vague or tarnished by companies with similar names, and be left with little legal protection in the process. Yet, this did not happen, either by creating a certain niche in the market or by the constant expansion of establishment locations and a rise in popularity.
While some people may prefer these more generic or descriptive sounding names, it is important to recognize their legal drawbacks. Stronger names are given stronger protection, and protecting the integrity and identity of your business can be critical in its success. Keeping this in mind, coming up with a name does not have to be a tedious process, and knowing how to make your name strong can give you a sense of relief. With confidence in your newly established name, you will be one step closer to a long but rewarding future of growth and success.
Written by: David Sacasa Ⓒ 2021 Alcoba Law Group P.A.
Picture Credits: Miri Paez Bolet.
Reviewed by: Ruben Alcoba on 10/23/2020
References: McCarthy, J. T. (2009). McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition. St. Paul, MN: West Group.