Arbitrary Trademarks: What You Need to Know

What is an Arbitrary Trademark?
An arbitrary trademark registration refers to a word or image which is already in existence but has no connection with the business using it. Apple Computers is a classic example, as iPhones and laptops do not have anything to do with cider or fruit. Camel cigarettes and Shell gas stations are two other examples. The USPTO recognizes the arbitrary trademark as one of the five trademark types.
What is an Arbitrary Trademark?
It is important to be familiar with the four other categories in order to truly understand what an arbitrary trademark actually means.
• Fanciful TrademarksSometimes called “coined trademarks”, these are words and images that have no meaning. Companies have full U.S. protection.Trademark law. After all, there is no reason for anyone to use a invented word other than the company. They are also stronger than any arbitrary trademarks. One of the most famous examples would be “Kodak,” which George Eastman created for his film company and camera because he loved the K sounds. Many drug names, such as Tylenol and Advil, are also invented, including Percocet.
• Suggestive TrademarksIt can be real words, images or made-up words. However, the mark in this instance suggests something about the company’s products. Microsoft, for example, makes software. Greyhound buses were named after a speedy dog breed, and Timex watches include the word “time” as their names .Suggestional trademarks Although they are less strong than arbitrary trademarks the USPTO still considers them strong marks.
• Descriptive Trademarks Get straight to the point when describing products of a company. This doesn’t mean they aren’t protected by trademark laws. Because trademarked words and images can be used to describe different products, this is possible. Some reviewers may use the term “best purchase” to describe products that are good, but you don’t need to go to a Best Buy to buy them. Ford Motors is one example of a company named after its founders.Descriptive trademarks. This is because George Ford, a man who was born in 1886, could have a motor and name it Ford’s Motor.
• Generic TrademarksThey are not trademarks, or they aren’t protected by trademark laws. The word or image can be used by anyone without restriction. This is why you can print a picture with apples on the side or back of an apple bag without having to ask Apple Computers. This is also why Apple cannot sell real apples and force others to call theirs “crispy fruits”.
What is the point of an arbitrary trademark?
Arbitrary marks are somewhere in the middle of suggestive and fanciful marks when it comes to trademark strength. While every company wants trademark protection, there are some reasons why fanciful names may not be the best choice. The problem with this is that the company must build its name from scratch. It doesn’t have any meaning and isn’t imply anything about the company, product or company. This makes it difficult for people to remember.
This problem is not present in arbitrary trademarks. Apple already has a meaning so Steve Jobs only had to make sure that people thought of Apple. Galaxy phones do not have anything to do with the Milky Way. But your friends will understand what you mean when they say “I’ll text” on their Galaxy.
An additional benefit to arbitrary trademarks is their lower risk of “genericide.” Generic means that a trademarked term is so common that others can’t use it anymore. Genericide can occur to any product in a market that is dominant, but it’s more common to happen to fanciful names because they don’t have a true meaning. Genericide can affect brands like the escalator and thermos. Brands at risk include Bubble Wrap and Rollerblade.
When it comes to “secondary meanings”, arbitrary trademarks have an advantage. To be protected by the government, a trademark owner must prove that the public can link the word to the company. “Camel” refers to a desert animal. The cigarette brand is its secondary meaning. This is very clear. It would be difficult to get people to remember your dairy company as “Creamy Milk Butter.”
Why not avoid an arbitrary trademark?
Words that are already used often have the problem of being copied by others. This is also true for Apple Computers. Apple Corps was a record label that the Beatles started back when Steve Jobs was in middle school. The single word would be the basis of much of their argument for years and millions.
There are also reasons why a company might choose to use a weaker mark instead. Your last name is memorable, unique, and gives your products a personal touch. A product can feel more personal if it has a first name such as Uncle Ben’s rice or Aunt Jemima syrup.
While “Holiday Inn”, sounds like a great place to stay for a long weekend or more, “Cranberry Inn,” sounds a little too random. Cranberry Inn would need to spend many years marketing itself to reach the place Holiday Inn begins.
How to choose the right arbitrary trademark
According to the story, Steve Jobs chose his company name on a whim. He could have avoided all the lawsuits had he done more research and chosen “Peach” or even “Plum” instead. Jobs did not know how important his choice of name would be, and his company would suffer.
It’s not enough to choose a good brand name and company. It is important to establish a good reputation for your company. Customers may not return if you change it. Many food companies have difficulty keeping customers after changing only their packaging designs.
Another thing to remember is that trademarks can be arbitrary. Even though your company name doesn’t have to do with your industry it can still convey something about your identity. Rockstar and Red Bull energy drinks have nothing to do with cows or playing music, but they are energetic and fun names. The same goes for choosing a trademark that is not related to your products, but only your public image. You can brainstorm words that convey the emotions, ideas, and imagery you want your product’s to evoke in customers. It’s also helpful to know what keywords customers are using in search engines to find products or services similar to yours.
It is important to keep track of the trademarks that your competitors are using. You can fit in with the crowd if arbitrary trademarks are used. However, if you use an arbitrary trademark that no one else has, it will help you stand out but can also cause customers to be more cautious about purchasing your products.
While branding is important, it’s equally important to choose the right words or images for your brands. Although it might seem random to trademarks, it is worth the effort of doing research upfront.
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