Thursday, October 29, 2009

Descriptive Trademarks

The title here is a bit misleading as descriptive words are not typically allowed to be registered on the USPTO’s trademark Principal Register. Let’s back up a little...

One of the main points (some would argue THE main point) of having a Federal trademark is to have exclusive rights to a name, a logo or a slogan within your industry. Given that, words that “merely describe” the goods or services are not going to be allowed.

There are two main reasons the USPTO provides:

1) “to prevent the owner of a mark from inhibiting competition in the sale of particular goods”

What this means: The owner of the descriptive word(s) can’t trademark it as it could create a stranglehold, of sorts, on the word(s) within the industry. For instance, the word “trademark” is disclaimed on our Federal trademark registration on
TradeMark Express, meaning we’re not claiming exclusive rights to the word “trademark” as it’s a descriptive word for our industry.

2) “to maintain freedom of the public to use the language involved, thus avoiding the possibility of harassing infringement suits by the registrant against others who use the mark when advertising or describing their own products”

What this means: People should have the freedom to use descriptive words in advertising or in describing their goods/services. Using the example above, other companies offering trademark services should be able to use the word “trademark” to describe their services, in their advertising, etc.

So How do I Know if my Name is Descriptive?

As with anything trademark, it’s never black & white. Each situation is going to vary from the next. The basic litmus test is “does this word describe the product and/or service?” and if the answer is yes, then you’ve most likely got a descriptive name on your hands.

It is not necessary that a term describe all of the purposes, functions, characteristics, or features of a product/service to be considered merely descriptive; it is enough if the term describes one significant function, attribute, or property.

Here are some examples provided by the USPTO:

• APPLE PIE held merely descriptive of potpourri (most likely because the words describe the scent)

• BED & BREAKFAST REGISTRY held merely descriptive of lodging reservations services

• MALE-P.A.P. TEST held merely descriptive of clinical pathological immunoassay testing services for detecting and monitoring prostatic cancer

If you’d like help determining if your name is descriptive, please leave a comment or email me at

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Brainstorming Tips for Creating a Business Name

Here's a few things to keep in mind:

1) Keep your industry, your clients/customers, your advertising plan in mind.

2) The more unique & distinctive a name, the higher the chances that the name is legally available for use. And the higher the chances of obtaining the trademark.

3) Think of your business as having a personality. What kind of image do you want your business to portray?

Specific brainstorming tips:

Think about what you want but more importantly, think about what you DON'T want. If you don't want a 3-word name, don't bother with those. If you don't want non-English words, don't bother with those & so on and so forth.

What are the "types" of names you like? Think about words in their simple forms, e.g. adjectives, Latin roots, mythological names, etc. Compile a listing of the types & then seek out resources, such as books or sites, which specialize in those types.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Free Preliminary Trademark Search

TradeMark Express implemented a new service recently - ONE free preliminary USPTO search completed over the phone with you. We always conduct a preliminary USPTO search before we start comprehensive search but this new feature does NOT require that an order be placed first.

If you'd like your ONE free preliminary USPTO trademark search, contact me:; Contact Page; 800.340.2010