What is a common factor between ‘Nike’, ‘McDonald’s’, and ‘Volkswagen’? At first glance, you’d probably find nothing. And, then it would hit you – these terms (these trademarks, actually) are all unique, identify specific types of goods and services and yet are not descriptive of those goods or services. While these are extremely well-known trademarks, they don’t describe any aspect of the products or services that they are used with. Each of these trademarks is considered to be a strong trademark. What is the difference between a strong trademark and a weak trademark? How do you determine if your trademark is strong or weak?
What Makes a Trademark Strong
All the strong trademarks that we mentioned above are distinctive and original in their own way. McDonald’s, through consistent and long-time use has become known world-wide for it’s restaurant services. Volkswagen is a fanciful, made up word that is now distinctive of a brand of cars. Nike may be the Greek goddess of victory, however it is in no way descriptive of the goods and services that Nike offers. In Nike’s case, even its symbol is an extraordinary phenomenon, where a single ‘tick mark’ acts as a unique identifier of source. It is unlikely that a similar symbol could be used by another company without risk or an inability to register their design.
Apple and Apple’s trademarked logo is another great example of a strong trademark. Apple is an arbitrary word that, aside from the technology giant’s use, has absolutely no relation to the goods and services that are offered. The strength of the trademark makes it challenging for other parties to utilize an apple design or potentially even a different type of bitten fruit without risking difficulty or rejection in the trademark process. The stronger your trademark is, the greater the scope of protection your trademark is likely to receive.
What Makes a Trademark Weak
Now that you understand ‘what to do’, it’s only fair to explore ‘what not to do’ when you’re coming up a trademark for your company, products or services. As a rule, IP lawyers and agents discourage clients from using descriptive trademarks as they are not registerable. Descriptive trademarks are those terms that clearly describe the goods or services or the quality, characteristics or place of origin or may be terms used in the industry. For example, attempting to register ICE COLD CREAM in relation to ice cream is likely futile. If, however, you were successful in convincing an Examiner to approve it, the scope of your protection could be incredibly limited. Consider the number of diet products on the market. Many of them use the term ‘slim’ as a part of their trademark. When a phrase or term is used by a number of parties in a particular industry, more importance is placed on other aspects of the trademarks and smaller differences between trademarks used by different parties are likely to be allowed. This can result in a situation where a trademark is registerable but hard to enforce because it is a weak trademark. The weaker the trademark, the smaller the scope of protection your trademark is likely to receive.
Creating a strong, unique, distinctive trademark can be beneficial as your company grows. The assistance of an IP lawyer or agent can be beneficial during the trademark process. Contact us for assistance with the trademark process.